Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Mickelson Rail Trail and more exploring

The George S. Michelson Rail Trail runs the length of the Black Hills and is easily accessible. It runs right by our campground, although it's on the other side of he road. We drove into Hill City to pick up the trail and rode to Custer. Mom dropped us off and met us in Custer.

We thought the trail was rolling hills, but it turned out the section we rode was 9 miles up and 6 miles down! The up part, from Hill City to Crazy Horse the trail went right along side the highway and the scenery wasn't all the exciting. It reminded me a bit of Colorado, simply because so many bike paths there follow the roads. After Crazy Horse it was all downhill into Custer and the bike path was away from the road in a more secluded and scenic area. This worked perfectly because going down it was easier to enjoy the scenery!

When we arrived in Custer Mom was waiting for us! We tried to eat lunch at Buffalo Burgers and Buns, we'd gotten a review of it on the trail from some guys who were biking across the country, but it was too crowded and there was a long wait, we ended up at The Purple Pie Company and we had a great lunch!

After lunch it was on to Jewel Cave National Monument. We'd never heard of Jewel Cave before seeing it on the map. When we got there however, the next tour was a two hour wait, so we walked around the visitor center and got our passports stamped.

We'd gotten a tip from someone in the Custer Visitor Center that the walk around Sylvan Lake was only a mile and very nice. We headed up the Needles Highway from Custer to get to Sylvan Lake. It was a great drive! The rocks were pointy and if you looked carefully they looked like things, kind of like looking at clouds! It also reminded me of Colorado and a hike that Dad and I did in the Lumpy Range.

Sylvan Lake was a small lake with rock formations all around it! It was also a busy place with lots of people walking, kayaking, swimming, and enjoying the sunny afternoon! We started walking around thinking it was just a flat, wide, sandy path. Even Mom was coming because this was in theory short and flat. Well, not so much. At the far end of the lake the trail went up and then down over the rocks! It was pushing Mom's comfort level, but she did it! Even made it through the narrow rock tunnel at the end, then it was back to a flat, sandy trail!

After the lake we headed back to Custer to try the Buffalo Burgers and Buns again, they'd only re-opened at 5 and it was 5:45, yet there was a 45 min wait. We will find buffalo burgers elsewhere. We got dinner at The Sage Creek Cafe, it was yummy! Then we headed back to the campground to run generators and check on my fridge (which is continuing to boycott running on propane, however we may have cracked the code on how to light it, it just needs lots of attention!).


Monday, June 29, 2015

The Black Hills

After days of driving across the flat featureless corn fields and prairie the Black Hills were a welcome sight! Almost as soon as we were back on I90 in Wall I could see the mountains in the distance! As I drove they got closer and closer and finally I was off the interstate and driving right into the heart of the mountains! The familiar landscape with hills and curves and trees and rocks was refreshing like ice water on hot summers day! The Black Hills are sacred to the Native Americans and instantly I understood why. Driving up to our campground was sweet relief from the days of nothingness!

After we got settled at the Oreville Campground (National Forest Service), my dad made a at least temporarily successful attempt at making my fridge work on propane and we'd had lunch we set out to explore.

Our first stop was Crazy Horse Memorial. Crazy Horse was a Great Chief who was killed by a white soldier unprovoked, during a time of what they thought was peace. The memorial is still unfinished - they have been working on it since the 1940's and only have a fraction of it completed. It's going to be huge when it's finished. The statue is the Native American's answer to Mt. Rushmore, and since this statue is so much bigger and grander, it kind of seems like the Native Americans are sticking their tongue out at the white man! I enjoyed visiting here and learning about the Native Americans and seeing the work being done on the statue!

Next we were heading to Mt. Rushmore, but we took the scenic route through Custer State Park. The park has it all, tall mountain peaks, streams, buffalo, prairie dogs, open spaces! We stopped at two overlooks to take in the view. You don't have to get up too high to see beyond the mountains to the flat plains. We were at the top of Mt. Coolidge and there was a big thunderstorm nearby, the thunder was reverberating off the mountains and the lighting was dramatic! As we drove the rest of the wildlife loop the storm lingered, but it never rained, so it just added to the atmosphere! We saw a few prairie dogs, a huge herd of buffalo and some deer! The park looks a lot like Yosemite with all the granite and evergreens and also Yellowstone with with wide open spaces and buffalo!

It was a longer drive around Custer State Park than we anticipated, but soon we were on Iron Mountain Road headed for Mt. Rushmore. Iron Mountain road is very narrow and twisty with several low rock tunnels. Through some of the tunnels you get your first views of the sculpture, however the sun was in the worst possible place and the faces were all washed out.

Mt. Rushmore itself reminds me of the National Mall in DC. And, everything that is there would be more appropriate in Washington rather that out here. The viewing area of the sculpture is a grand marble walkway lined with flags from every state, when you finally get up to it there is a huge amphitheater where they put on a nightly light show. Everything there is designed to accommodate huge crowds, there are multi level parking structures, large restrooms with flush toilets, warnings about firearms, - a stark contrast to Custer State Park with its limited development and outhouse facilities. The whole place screams "look at us white people we are the best and we know it." I didn't like it one bit.

I know there are two sides to every story and I'm trying to figure out what the justification was for building Mt. Rushmore in the first place. I know that Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson and Roosevelt were great leaders and they did great stuff for our country, and they deserve to memorialized in a grand fashion, but why this? Why here? This land was scared to the Native People, it's holy and revered, and we came in and not only took it from them, but defaced it, scarred it, and then millions of people flock here every year to look at the great statue. It just seems all kinds of wrong. Because of its location, Mt. Rushmore seems to me to be of a symbol of a lack of respect and understanding for other cultures. It highlights for me, not the greatness of the Presidents, but one of our biggest mistakes. I'm not sure what we can do about it, how to apologize or beging to make it better.

After Mt. Rushmore it was time for dinner. We drove into nearby Keystone and discovered a great little Indian and Nepali resteraunt! The samosas and curries were awesome! Then we headed back to the campground, our plans to stop for groceries scrapped because it got too late!


Sunday, June 28, 2015

South Daktoa

Today was another big driving day - 460 miles, but I had several opportunities to stop and see stuff! South Dakota has lots of tourist stuff!,

The first touristy thing was the 60 ft Jolly Green Giant in Blue Earth, MN. I didn't get off the highway, but I could see him sticking up through the trees!

I think South Daktoa has the market cornered on tourist traps with character! You start seeing signs for Wall Drug over 300 miles before you get there, and there's Al's Oasis at exit 260. Al & Wall seem to have a competition going on through billboards across the state. I was sad when I finally reached exit 260, where Al's is located, because I didn't know what I'd read! I don't think there's any other state, that I've driven through anyway, with billboards like the ones in South Daktoa! It was fun reading and took my mind off all the corn & flat. I did stop at exit 260, but it was for fuel, not Al's

The other big attraction is the Corn Palace in Mitchell. Those billboards featured "corny" jokes that cracked me up every time, or maybe I'm just a bit punchy from all the driving? The Corn Palace is a building where they create a corn mosaic every year - using ears or corn. This years mosaic is still under construction. They also have a gift shop and a snack bar featuring, you guessed it, corn. The inside of the building even smells like popcorn. I do have to hand it to the City of Mitchell, they took what they had, corn, and created a big touristy thing out of it and get folks off the highway and into their town, very few folks can resist seeing The World's Only Corn Palace!

South Daktoa also has several National Parks, we'll get to the others later this week but today I drove through the Badlands. The Badlands are rock structures, the look a little like the hodos of Bryce Canyon in Utah. What was crazy was seeing landscape, even if it kinda looked like the moon, after so many days of corn fields. There were hills and curves and all sorts of things I haven't seen in awhile!

After I drove through the Badlands I arrived in Wall, home of Wall Drug. Wall Drug is the ultimate tourist stop! The store itself is several blocks long and has a cafe, ice cream parlor, drug store, t-shirt shop, and more! Then there's the "backyard" featuring the 6ft Jackalope you can climb up on, a miniature Mt. Rushmore, a splash pad, and some benches. It's here in the backyard where you can get your free cup of ice water. Only there's no ice & the water is tepid at best! Wall Drug is famous for its free ice water, a fact you are reminded of at almost every billboard! Beyond the backyard is a museum of Wall Drug history and articles. It's quite a place!

Both the Corn Palace and Wall Drug are solid road trip stops! They are tacky enough to be fun and are basically free! The Corn Palace boasts that it's free, and at Wall Drug you don't have to spend any money to walk around and appreciate it! Of course they want you to buy their pie, doughnuts and stuff, but you can enjoy it without spending a cent!


Saturday, June 27, 2015

Myre-Big Island State Park, Minnesota

It was a lovely sunny, chilly morning at Kickapoo! As has become my routine, I was up with the sun and ready to roll by 7:30! After a quick visit to the dump station I was on my way west on 74!

Yesterday's drive was messed up because of lack of planning, today's ended up working out perfectly without being planned! I had about 450 miles on the agenda and I'd planned to stop Iowa 80, the World's Largest Truck stop. Turns out it was almost exactly halfway!

I started the morning with listening to Gone Missing. I've decided that an audiobook is almost like having an in-flight movie for your road trip! I'm enjoying it, but I can only listen for about 2 hours at a time. After I got tired of listening I put on some music for the 2nd two hours before I reached Iowa 80.

Today's drive did include crossing the Mississippi River! That's always exciting, yet anticlimactic. The bridge is a normal bridge, nothing special, it's marked that it's the Mississippi, but that's it. I figure if the Mississippi was on the east coast they'd probably charge you $30 to drive across it!

Iowa 80 claims to be the World's Largest Truck stop. There was even a reality TV show about it on the travel channel! I saw it 2 years ago but didn't stop, now I have a friend who has family in Nebraska and they stop every time they drive through. I had to stop and check it out! I will admit that it's quite a truck stop - food court, truck supplies, gift shop, resteraunt, even a chiropractor and a dentist! I spent an hour wandering around looking at everything, picked up a sticker for my table, and got fuel before continuing down the road.

At Iowa City I turned off I80 and headed up I380 to US218 to US18 to get to I35 so I didn't have to go all the way to Des Moines. I was thinking these roads would go through towns and such, but nope, except for a little bit it was all 4 lane divided highway, 65 mph, surrounded by corn. Corn as far as they eye can see!

Once I got to I35 I only had a little ways left to Albert Lea, MN, which is where I35 crosses I90. Last week I was looking at the map and saw that there was a state park right by the interstate, and they had a campground! I didn't want to pay the $8.50 reservation fee (which meant my dry camping site would cost $30 which seemed ridiculous!) so I decided to take my chances getting a site, there was a Wal-Mart nearby if the campground was full. I shouldn't have worried, there are lots of sites open! I pulled in a little before 5 and got a great site!

The park isn't that big but it's got a huge lake and several hiking trails as well as a bike path that I discovered once I got here. After I got parked up I decided to eat dinner and then explore. It was so nice to be able to sit outside and not be cooped up in the van! Although soon this Minnesota State Park began to remind me of the Everglades! Mosquitoes. I decided that a bike ride would be a better way to explore than on foot - move faster so the mosquitoes can't get you!

There are 2 campgrounds here - the one I'm in on the hill,and Big Island which is out on the lake. I rode down to Big Island - it's very nice! The road in is a dirt road and looks a bit rough, there were several big trailers and fifth wheels in the campground though so it must not be too bad!

After exploring Big Island I headed to The Blazing Star State Trail. Seems that this bike path is being built to connect several cities and things within the city! I rode out to two ponds, and then back to where the pavement ended. It was a nice path and reminded me a lot of Lake Anita in Iowa or the Stowe Rec Path in Vermont! There were lots of birds and bunnies, I even saw a turtle!

I have no idea how far I rode but I was out about an hour and a half so I'd guess 10-12 miles. When I came back I wanted to sit outside and enjoy the evening and blog and read but the mosquitoes were too much! Finally I decided to clean the dead bugs off the windshield (I had one smear right where it blocks my view!) and retreat into the van where there were at least fewer bugs!

I had a great view of the sunset from my bed, but the cloud moved in. It's cooling off nicely and there's a chance of thunderstorms overnight and early tomorrow morning.

Tomorrow it's on to South Dakota!


Friday, June 26, 2015

6 States & a 600 mile day!

Today was a very big driving day! Bigger than I realized when I was planning! I drove through Maryland, West Virginia (twice!), Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and am now in Illinois. I haven't really been keeping track, but I'm pretty sure I've never crossed that many states in one day before! Accomplishing this meant that I drove right around 600 miles, I know I've never gone that far in one day in the RV before!

Both of these milestones are actually the result of a planning mistake! When I was thinking about my route and looked at the map I realized I could plan around a few parks I'd been to in 2013 when I drove to Colorado. When I google mapped the distance from Rocky Gap to Kickapoo, I didn't consider that the route it showed me was different from how I intended to go. I knew how to get here, I just wanted a number! Google maps routed me on the PA turnpike - The turnpike is not a fun road to drive and they charge you for the experience so I went 68 to Morgantown and then up 79 to Washington and got 70. This added about 50 miles, not a big deal usually, except that I was already planning a 550 mile day!

Luckily the weather mostly cooperated. The last time I drove this route was the worst driving day ever thanks to several big storms. Today was much better! I did run into a lot of rain from Dayton all the way to Illinois! It was raining like crazy, but it wasn't windy or storming, just pouring rain! Funny, it rained like crazy last time I drove through Indiana. Given the choice of 20 miles of bumper to bumper traffic or 150 miles in a monsoon, I'd take the monsoon.

One exciting thing I did today was listen to an audiobook while I drove! (I'm such a nerd!) I read a lot of books, but listening to an audiobook is very hard for me, my brain wanders and the book keeps going and it's hard to go back and re-read. I'd thought that the mind numbing boringness of the 1000 mile flats might be just the place to try again with an audio book! My local library has Overdrive where you can borrow audio & ebooks so before I left I downloaded a book and started listening to it once I got into Ohio. At first it was hard to stay focused on both the road and the book, but once I got into the story I was good to go! I picked a thriller novel so it has a predicable structure and it's a fairly straight forward story. And, it's really good! I can't wait to read the others in the series (it's a Kate Burkholder novel by Linda Castillo) I listened to it for about 4 hours and really enjoyed it, although it was work to stay focused on the book and not let my mind go! My brain was relieved when I put the music back on! I'm excited to think that maybe I can devour books while I drive, especially on these long cross country drives!

It took me 11 hours to drive the 600 miles, I only stopped a few times and not for longer than 30 minutes, so once I reached Kickapoo I was ready to get out! After dinner I took a long walk in the campground and managed to get all 10,000 steps! woot! woot! And guess what? It's breezy and cool! No need for AC, again! :-) LOVE IT!

I've enjoyed coming back to familiar campgrounds and driving familiar roads, but tomorrow I will cross into uncharted territory! After I survive driving the rest of Illinois...


Thursday, June 25, 2015

Rocky Gap State Park

I finished up my school year on Monday. It was a very challenging year and while I learned a lot and got to work with some amazing people, I was so ready for a break! I was glad I'd planned to leave on my summer trip in just a few days!

I spent Tuesday and Wednesday packing & reorganizing the RV. This is my 4th summer with the RV and over the years my needs have changed and I decided it was time to re-evaluate everything that was in the van. I took a lot of stuff out that I'd never used and changed where I store some stuff to make it easier to get to. I also gave the van a good cleaning! Funny how cleaning the RV is a lot more appealing than cleaning the house!

By this morning all the laundry had been done, the food prepped, the clothing packed, I'd gone around the house several times collecting stuff I'd need and I had everything ready! I left home a little after 10 and headed to Linden for lunch with my friend Kathy! We had a nice lunch and then had time to hang out and chat after, we teach at the same school but there is never any time to chat! It was 3:00 when I decided I needed to get on the road. There was rain in the forecast & it was moving in.

The drive to Rocky Gap was mostly rain free. I came up 522 to 68 and it took about 2 hours from Kathy's. It was raining lightly when I got here but the sky opened up after I got hooked up! If I'd arrived even 5 mins later than I had I would have been pulling in a deluge. I sat in the van and ate dinner hoping the rain would let up and wishing I had an automatic retractable awning so I could open the door and enjoy the fresh air.

The rain did let up right about when I finished so I was able to take my trash (that I'd brought from home, gotta consider trash day when picking my departure day!) to the dumpster and walk around the campground a bit. It was still drizzly and cloudy and everything is wet, but it was a nice walk. It's a huge campground and there's hardly anyone here! I think there's more rain predicted this weekend so maybe folks stayed home!

The rain has also cooled everything off..its in the 60s! Funny, because I made a reservation to ensure I had electricity because I was worried it would be hot and I'd want AC!

Tomorrow is a big driving day - I'm planning to go 550 miles to Kickapoo State Rec Area near Danville, IL so I'm heading to bed early so I can get an early start!


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Cord Cozy

This years RV project is a roll up cord cozy! I saw it on Pinterest ( http://www.liveitloveitmakeit.com/2014/09/makers-month-make-it-cable-cozy.html) and knew it was just the thing to organize all my chargers and cords and other electronic stuff! You can't go "camping" without a huge assortment of electronic devices right?

One thing I learned from this project is that there are two levels to a sewing project, one the act of actually sewing and creating an item that is structurally sound and useful, the other the customizing and design to make it useful.

I'm a very beginner sewer, I made my t-shirt quit, but that was easy, just straight seams, nothing tricky. This project was a lot more involved - I had to make a zippered lined pouch, as well as sew on snaps and work with elastic.

I knew the zipper was going to tricky so I did a practice pouch with an extra zipper. It was very frustrating! I sewed it wrong three times and had to pick the stitching out and start over! Even when I finished it, I thought I'd done it wrong & I had to walk away to cool off it was so frustrated (this is why sewing doesn't always go well me!) But, when I came back to look at it I realized it was right, I just needed to finish turning it right side out! Making a sample proved to be very valuable because when I went to make the real thing I knew exactly what to do and how to make sure I didn't make the same mistakes as before! The end result was a great zippered bag for all my stuff! And, I know how to do it so I can make more!

The cord cozy part was much easier to sew, however I didn't really think it through the fist time and once it was done I came up with several design tweaks I wanted to make that would make it more useful so I went back to Joann's and got more fabric, interfacing and elastic (and this time I found the fun ruffled, colored elastic rather than the boring white I'd had the first time!). The end result is much more functional, although I'm not sure exactly how functional my creation will be. Even if it not the best thing ever for my electronics parts, it was a good stretch of my sewing abilities!





Tie Dye Sheets

I did this last year but I never posted about it!

Last year I decided to give the bed in the RV a makeover. I'd been using a mismatched set of sheets at I pulled together from some of my cast offs and my moms. It wasn't pretty and I knew if I had sheets that fit properly it would be more comfortable. I got a thick plush pillow top type mattress pad and then was thinking about sheets. I was standing in the sheet aisle at Target trying to figure out what color would be best when I saw the white sheets and inspiration hit....I'd tie dye the sheets! I'd recently don't a tie dye project with kindergarten kids and learned all about the new kits they have with squirt bottles making it really easy to get all kinds of colors! So much better than the RIT dye in the 5 gallon pickle bucket that we used to do a summer camp!

I was able to buy individual sheets at Target rather than a set so I could get a queen fitted sheet and a full flat sheet so they'd fit on the bed without a lot of excess sheets! The bed in the RV is bigger than a queen but smaller than a king. Queen size fits, but only if they have deep pockets for a thick mattress.

Once I had the sheets and a new set of dye (you can get it at any craft store or on Amazon, you can get sets with tons of colors or just a few.) it was time to get started! Getting the rubber bands on was hard because the sheets were so big! I'd thought I'd try to do a starburst that started in the middle, but it was really hard do I finally started just putting rubber bands anywhere!

Then I took it outside, put an old sheet down in the yard, and started dying!


Here's the sheet all dyed and ready to soak overnight:

After the sheet soaked overnight I took it up to the bathtub where I ran it under water to rinse out the excess dye, then washed it normally. I didn't get pictures of the process for the other sheet or the pillow cases.

I had attempted to do a rainbow, but it turns out trying to use up the old dye from my kindergarten tie dying didn't really work so well... I like the flat sheet a lot better than the fitted one! And the pillow cases are very cool!

Here are the sheets on the bed in the RV, along with the t-shirt quilt I made and the giant pillow I made out of extra t-shirts from the quilt:

I love my new RV bed! The sheets are really nice, very soft and the colors make me happy!

When we were in New Hampshire last July I was washing the sheets in a campground laundry room and I was chatting with another lady who was camping there. She commented about my sheets when I pulled them out of the dryer so I told her I'd tie dyed them myself and she said, "oh, so you are one of them?" I'm not sure which "them" she meant but if tie dying your sheets is wrong, I don't want to be right! :-)