"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.
We made it to the mall of america last night with two hours till closing. We just about ran through and didn't even get through two of its four floors. Maybe we could have seen a few more store fronts if we didn't get so distracted by the amusement park in the middle of the mall! We didn't try out any rides, but it was a great way to stretch our legs and look at something other than barren fields
First thing in the morning we headed for our next mile stone, South Dakota - the start of the left-hand page of the atlas. Before getting to the South Dakota border we found out first cliche road side attraction Blue Earth, Minnesota: a 50 foot statue of the Jolly Green Giant. A few miles down the road we stumbled upon a reconstruction of a pioneer fort. It wasn't open, but we got to walk around the buildings and stretch our legs.
As we crossed the state line, South Dakota proved to be the change of scenery we were looking for. Instead of flat, barren farms, the landscape started to get a little more hilly and was mixed with grassland and wind farms. We hit a touch of rain through Sioux Falls and Mitchell. As we headed east bill boards started to pop up again. Not the constantly changing, electric billboards one finds around the cities. These billboard have been there for years (if not generations). They were mostly for campgrounds and casinos - and, of course, adult super stores.
Then we saw a sign for Pioneer auto show. I jumped grabbed the South Dakota visitors guide we got at a rest stop and looked it up. There were no hours of operation listed and the billboards are up all year round so we weren't sure if it was seasonal (we were three days too early for the Corn Palace in Mitchell). The first billboard for it was about 100 miles before the exit so we had hours to sweat it out as we watched the signs to stop and see the General Lee and Evil's motorcycle go by.
We finally got there in the evening. It turned out to be more of a museum than an auto show. There were multiple buildings filled with not only antique cars, tractors and motorcycles, but all sorts of antiquated nostalgia as well. It was all started by one man in Murdo SD. This guy was really proud of his town. The whole back of the property was like a 10th century time capsule of Murdo. There was a barber, a bank, a gas station..... the list goes on and on. Between the time capsule buildings were sheds filled with even more antique cars.
There was a point where we both got a little sad to see all the cars not being driven. I saw Neil's cousin, a '58 Beetle; rusted, in a shed, the tires flat - a tear came to my eye, literally. That moment marks my official diagnosis of the car bug, for which there is no cure.
Some of the cars were show cars and were in good shape, but there were so many it would be impossible to restore and upkeep all of them. But they are being appreciated, by the public. If it wasn't for this one man these cars would be in a landfill somewhere, instead they are here to be appreciated as historical items and pieces of art.
Pioneer Auto Show
Last night we settled down at Iowa 80 right before the rain hit. We woke up this morning to the tail end of the storm. The wind is worse than the rain, but Neil is a champ - and so is Sherm for driving through the winds of the open plains of Mid West! As we drove west the storm passed over east, leaving us with a beautiful sunny day (although it was still windy!).
We we chugging along toward the Missouri River to bring us back up to I90. Suddenly Sherm asked, "Where is the Mall of America?" Turns out it's right outside Minneapolis. Convinently, we were coming up to I35 which shoots right into Minneapolis; so we changed course and headed north. About halfway to the Minnesota border we stopped for gas. Off the highway we saw a sign for a blacksmith and train museum.
Of course we followed the signs, which lead us to the Welcome Center of Dows, Iowa; which was a historic one room train station. There wasn't much around but some kind of GIANT crop processing facility right on the train tracks. We walked up the the front door and it was locked. "Isn't this how horror movies start?" has been our joke. Across the street was another historic building - large and brick, it had to be the blacksmith museum. We walked over and the front door was open and we could hear two ladies talking. It took a second for our eyes to adjust to the dark, but it revealed two floors of blacksmith and machine shop antiques.
The town's blacksmith had worked there is whole life. With technology changing much of the tools he had were out dated and he must not of had anyone else to carry on the tradition. One night after work in 1990, he locked up shop, walked down to town hall and handed them the keys, retiring at 94yrs old and donating the building as it sat that day. It looks like people continue to donate antiques because the place was packed. There were so many cool things in that one building I don't even know where to start, so I'll let the pictures do the talking.
The wind was so constant for so long on the highway we decided to take a side road north to Minnesota. I thought it might be a change of scenery - it wasn't - but I did get a closer look at some farms, processing facilities, and miles and miles and miles of empty train cars for transporting crops, at least that is what I imagine they are for. Why else would there be so many empty cars just waiting to be filled? And how else do you get all that corn to the hungry people of the world?
Iowa was super flat and pretty monotonous since every field right now is just dirt, but I'll tell you nothing make you appreciate your food more than seeing just how awesome the process is to get it to you. Being from the coast I know what fishermen go through, but I never really thought about just how much food comes out of the middle of the country.
All we saw were dirt fields. As the sun came out we saw more and farmers out tilling their fields. Soon this will all be crops.; and not too much longer it will be on someone's plate. There's some food for though for you!
First I need to say, we dodged all the crazy rain, tornadoes, hurricanes, floods and whatever other natural disasters have been plaguing the Midwest since we left Cape Cod. While still in New England I was stressed looking at all the rain right over our path. It was warm and sunny all through New York. I was constantly looking at the weather radar on my phone. As the dot marking our location on Google maps inched closer to Ohio there was one major storm blowing through the Dakotas and the giant scary one was heaviest over Arkansas, but there was a clear path right where we needed to go!
We made it half way through Indiana last night. It was so hot all day we wicked needed a shower. The hotel was worse than a truck stop. (Really- we are at a truck stop tonight and it is SO much cleaner!) There is no smoking in hotels in all of Indiana, but I'm pretty sure it hadn't been cleaned since well before that law was implemented. Thank goodness I have plastic flip flops. I even brought in my own blankets and slept on top of the sheets.
I spared you the repetitiveness of many of the views over the interstate throughout New York; the blink of an eye that we were in PA; Ohio; Indiana; and Illinois. New York had great hilly green landscape. Then around the Great Lakes there wasn't much of view from the highway. By Illinois the farms were getting bigger, then the land started to flatten out and you can see further. The thing I remember most was the smell: rows of purple and white flowering trees blowing their awesome sent through the open windows of the bus.
When we woke up in Indiana we saw it had rained while we were asleep. We were going to get up super early and squeeze through Chicago before rush hour. Even though the room was not the cleanest the bed was so much more comfortable than the front seat of the bus for Sherm (I wasn't that uncomfortable in my nest: every blanket we own on top of the middle seat), so we slept in longer than planned. After looking at my trusty doper radar I saw the heavy rain on the map had pasts us in our sleep. Still, there was another storm a-brewin' over Wisconsin so we opted for I80 over I90 to bring us over the Mighty Mississippi.
It started wicked raining as we got the tail end of the storm going over Chicago. Good-old Neil Cassidy did great. Finally the rain stopped, just outside of Joliet. We saw some blue sky peaking out from behind the clouds as the view from the bus finally started to look different from New England. We crossed the Mississippi and our place on the atlas inched closer to the left page.
We're parked out for the night at Iowa 80: The World's Largest Truck Stop, Walcott IA.
We woke up this morning about an hour from Niagara Falls. The plan was to eat and blog there, but apparently - even though they serve breakfast - nothing is open at 8:00 in the morning. The timing was great though: as we left the park, coach tours started to pour in.
It took about 10 hours to get to Niagara from Milford CT. We didn't pass a single car on the road the whole time! Not that its the apocalypse, it's just that all the other drivers were passing us! Neil did great the whole way. He's very happy plowing down the roads at a whopping 60 miles an hours. Or at least that is what we thought: we drove passed a speed reader in Buffalo that claimed we were only going 55.
Still no complaints. Neil is happy with the speed limit and so are Sherm and I. Who wants to make this trek and not actually SEE the country? Certainly not us. We think Neil is happy about it too. When Neil was purchased from Colorado he was freighted to the east coast. He was not created to be left in someones back yard. He is a transporter, and that is exactly what he is doing- and well!
Neil Cassady. The Way Back Machine. Whatever you want to call him, he certainly is a Happy Bus. He is happy to be used for what he was intended. Sherm and I are happy we aren't squished in the GLI or the Wrangler. And every car that passes us on the road is filled with happy people after seeing the site of Neil packed to the brim plugging along the interstate. We even got respect from a trucker and a New York state trooper.