Friday, July 29, 2005

The journey nears its end...

Days 27-28

Location: South Bend, Indiana

Total miles traveled: 10,921

I woke up freezing shortly after 4AM on the blanket did nothing in the cold Minnesotan weather. So I got back on the Interstate and headed South into Iowa.

It didn't take long to get into Iowa, but I was exhausted so I stopped for a nap. Pulling into the rest stop I heard some unsettling noises - my brakes were grinding. I knew I couldn't continue on the trip in this fashion, so I decided I'd try to find a garage when I reached a sizable city in Iowa that could take a look and find the problem.

My road atlas indicates the size of a city with the size font it uses for the name of the city; i.e. the smallest towns are written in the smallest fonts. So when I found a city with a medium sized font - Independence - I knew that would be a worthwhile place to stop.

I drove through the main road in the city but found no Midas, Meineke, or Firestone garages. I called my brother Brendan on my cell, and through a Google search for "Brake Shops" he found a Firestone just a few blocks from my location.

I drove to the Firestone, explained the situation, and the pleasant mechanic Ryan put my car right up on the lift and took a look. He said I would need new front rotors and brakes, costing (with labor) approximately $150. That sounded reasonable to me, so I told him as soon as he could get it done would be great. He actually said he'd start on it right then and told me it shouldn't take more than an hour.

Within 45 minutes I had walked back to the main road in Independence, grabbed a sandwich, and walked back - my car was already parked in the lot. I paid the clerk, thanked Ryan, and was on my way once again. I realized I should have had them do an oil change while it was up, but that didn't occur to me at the time; however, there was a Quaker State just down the block with no cars lined up. I pulled in, asked for an oil change and a tire rotation, and they got right on it. As you can probably tell, the various workers I had met in Independence were incredibly friendly. Before they drove my car into the bay, I grabbed a book in order to pass the time. Catalina and Jon had previously given me a copy of the book "1776" but I hadn't yet had an opportunity to start reading it. I didn't even get through the second chapter and the work was done (the book is definitely a good read so far). I was back on the road by 3PM.

I definitely cannot complain about the front brakes needing to be replaced - with the age of my car, and its high mileage, I couldn't be more thrilled of how its handled almost a year's worth of driving in a period of less than a month. If this is the only major car "issue" this whole trip (knock on wood), I couldn't be more pleased.

I've always said I've wanted to visit Iowa, knowing how flat it is, and I heard you can see for miles in any given direction. I'm certainly not used to anything like that, growing up in the valleys and hills of Broome County, NY. And I have seen a lot of flat land in the South like Texas and Arizona, but it was different here with all the developed farmland. I especially found it interesting how many clouds you could see, but not by looking "up," but my looking "out."

I drove in the direction of Eastern Iowa, where, near the border, I would take HWY 61 South to I80 into Illinois. Before I reached 61, however, I drove into the town of Dyersville. Dyersville is famous because of a movie that was filmed there in the 80's. Here's a picture, see if you can figure out what it is (it shouldn't be too tough):

In case you haven't figured it out, the movie is Field of Dreams that starred Kevin Costner. It was interesting seeing a baseball field in the middle of a cornfield, and reading a little bit of how the county worked to get Universal Studios to film the movie there. I certainly wouldn't have missed much had I chose not to visit the site, but I'm glad I did as it's a location that not too many cross-country travelers get to see.

I had originally read about the city of Dyersville in my book "Road Trip America," which highlights the less frequently visited, but still unique locations in the U.S. I highly recommend the book to anyone planning a trip. Unfortunately for me, I ran out of time visiting national parks so I didn't get to see barely any of the destinations mentioned in the book. I hope to take another cross-country trip in the future where that book will be my sole guide.

Within 15 minutes I was back on the road and decided I'd head towards South Bend in Indiana. Although I would have to cross the state of Illinois and drive past Chicago, I realized it would be only 250-300 more miles until I reached South Bend, where my brother Mike's friend, Tim, lives. I had spoken with Tim days before, and he said he'd be glad to have me come by and spend as much time as I want there.

I arrived at Tim's around 10:30 that night. Tim was also being visited by another mutual friend of his and Mike's - Brent. Brent goes to school in Chicago and was on a break himself so he made the drive over.

Me, Brent, Tim (and Belle)

We spent a couple hours just lounging around, playing video games outside, and talking about my trip. Brent headed back to Chicago that night, and I went to bed a little while later.

Got to sleep in on the 28th, and Tim and eventually went out and grabbed some pancakes for breakfast (I eat like a pig when I stop and see family and friends). We spent the afternoon playing more video games and we later spent time with his girlfriend, Marsa, and her son at her house. I had a great time just getting to relax and talk with these guys who are incredibly hospitable.

I'm back at Tim's now, and I'll head out of here early tomorrow. I might drive up towards the Buffalo area to see my friend Tom, and then I'll drive the four hours back home the following day. It would be pretty simple to get back home tomorrow, but since I'll be on the road it'll be a good opportunity to visit an old friend.

As this trip winds down, I want to say thank you to everyone who has been following along...I didn't know how interesting this would be to the people back home, but everyone I've talked to said they have enjoyed reading this site and looking at the pictures. Your nice emails and comments made the trip even more fun, and I am very grateful for them.


Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Day 26

Location: 40 miles west of Albert Lea, Minnesota

Total miles traveled: 10,273

I woke up in my hotel room, almost forgetting where I was. Sometimes I worry that sleeping in a bed will be too comfortable and I'll have a hard time sleeping, as I've gotten quite used to reclining in my car and putting my feet up on the dash.

It was rainy and cloudy outside, so I decided I would not make the drive back South and try to see Mount Rushmore. Hopefully, I'll have the opportunity to see it in the future. I feel really fortunate I was able to see the Crazy Horse Memorial before the weather turned sour. By the way...I forgot to mention this in my previous post - if I can give you a sense of the immensity of this Crazy Horse Memorial project...look to the immediate left of Crazy Horse's face - in that area (the brownish rock - which will eventually become his hair) you would be able to fit all four heads of Mount Rushmore. That's how big this thing is going to be.

Before I left Rapid City I began a search for a Native American art store that I saw a billboard for miles away. I remembered the address and got there shortly after it opened. The place was enormous...much bigger than I anticipated, and it had all kinds of artwork for sale...paintings, jewelry, beads, etc. Even items that were handmade by non-Native Americans.

I spent some time on the 2nd floor which was the art gallery. There were beautiful paintings for sale (some $5000+) and prints, as well. I found a display of an artist, Don Montileaux, whose work was also on display at the Crazy Horse Memorial store. At Crazy Horse I was drawn to a particular print of his on the wall called "Chief's Blanket." Unfortunately, no more prints were in stock and the one on the wall wasn't for sale. Dejected, I left, not thinking I'd see it elsewhere.

By a strike of luck, the exact print was available in this store in Rapid City. I also was able to meet the artist since his studio was in the same building. Don is a very nice guy who was willing to spend time talking with me even though I know nothing about art. He explained to me that he is Oglala Lakota - the same tribe as Crazy Horse. I had been hoping to bring something Lakota-related home, but hadn't found anything until that print. I thanked Don, he gave me his card, and I went downstairs to purchase the print. When I get back home I'll have it mounted at the Garland Gallery (Colleen - check my mail for a 10% off coupon).

I left Rapid City and headed East across I90 which runs across the entire state of South Dakota. Along the way was the famous "Corn Palace" in the city of Mitchell. I guess it's a place made entirely of corn. Inside there was a museum of all different South Dakotan things. I wasn't exactly enthralled by the place, but I figured since I was out here I should see it.

Yeah, I don't get it, either.

Anyhow, I continued East into Minnesota and found a rest stop to spend the night. Tomorrow I'll head into Iowa, and I should be able to reach Illinois before evening. As the end of July draws near, I'm getting more and more anxious to return home. Yes, I've become quite comfortable sleeping in my car, and it's fun being out on the road, but I look forward to getting back in my own bed, and not having to drive so much on a daily basis. But all the driving has certainly been worth it.


Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The journey continued (approximately)

Day 25

Location: Rapid City, South Dakota

Total miles traveled: 9,757

Was on the road shortly after 8AM and I headed North on I25 into Wyoming. By early afternoon I was on hwy 18 which would take me into South Dakota. I didn't think of it beforehand, but I noticed on the map I would be driving through Wind Cave National Park on the way to Mount Rushmore, and since I still had plenty of daylight left, I decided I'd see what the park was like before continuing further north.

From what I understand, Wind Cave is similar to places like Mammoth or Carlsbad - a large network of caves underground. However, it is also made up of several miles of prairie and forest where bison, prarie dogs, and elk roam. It was originally set up as a preserve for bison and elk in the early 1900's as hunting by white settlers brought these animals to the verge of extinction.

Not being much of a spelunker, I decided I'd stay above ground, maybe do a little walking, and see what animals were around. I didn't get to see any bison at any of the other parks I've visitied, so I was treated to a nice view of a herd of them shortly after I entered the park...they were right on top of a hill next to the road. One of them almost bumped into my car as it wanted to cross the road.

As you can see, bison are pretty big and visitors are told to keep their distance as they can be dangerous. On a side note, these aren't buffalo. I learned at the visitor's center that these animals were incorrectly named buffalo by European settlers after the animals from Asia, which are an entirely different species.

I continued on the roads through the park, stopping to enjoy the nice scenery. It was odd...this place didn't have mountains, any big canyons, or huge rivers flowing through it, but I found it to be one the best places I've visited this whole trip. Maybe it was the simplicity of the place that I enjoyed so much...I don't know. I would have been able to just sit on the grass for hours, enjoying the nice breeze sweeping over the prarie.

I also had the fortune of getting to see prairie dogs which I have never seen before. They are really little guys who make these high pitched barking noises to communicate, and they scurry back in their holes whenever someone approaches.

I spent some time walking part of the Centennial Trail which goes on for several miles. It was probably one of the more enjoyable trails I've hiked on, as it cuts through hills and meadows; whereas, most of the trails I've been on have been in forests, which I don't enjoy that much.

I headed back when I saw storm clouds approaching...fortunately, I only got rained on a little bit until I made it back to my car.

I headed further North and left Wind Cave National Park and headed towards the Crazy Horse Monument. I had only heard a little bit about this before and I wasn't quite sure what it was, and I was worried I wasted $10 gaining entrance to this place. But I couldn't be more glad that I spent that money.

Just a little background info...Crazy Horse was one of the main strategists who led the Lakota to victory at the Battle of Little Big Horn (Custer's Last Stand). In the 1940's, the Lakota decided they wanted to honor him with a memorial in the Black Hills, considered sacred by the Lakota - in the words of Chief Standing Bear, they wanted to show white people that "red men had heroes, too."

The Lakota hired a sculptor named Korczak from Boston to create the memorial. The memorial would be partially based on a saying attributed to Crazy Horse after he was asked the derisive question "Where are your lands now?" He responded, "My lands are where my dead lie buried." Therefore, the memorial would show him pointing straight out, sitting on his horse - here is what it will look like:

Picture this sculpted into the side of a huge granite mountain. As you can imagine, it would take a long time...right now, the only fully complete part is the face.

When completed (no one knows is all privately funded), the Crazy Horse memorial will be the biggest sculpture in the world, taller than the Washington Monument and bigger than the largest pyramids in Egypt. Korczak died, but the work is continued on by his large family.

At the site is also the North American Indian Museum - it was enjoyable walking through there admiring the art and reading the stories of Native American heroes.

I had to keep moving as I wanted to see Mount Rushmore before dark, but I hope to return some day and spend more time. The $10 was definitely well spent, and I got more than my money's worth. I believe the process being undertaken here is incredibly important and I hope it is completed within my lifetime.

It was cold in the Black had to be in the low 40's, and the cold wind didn't help. Fog was rolling in, and rain began to come down, so I debated heading towards Rushmore. It was only 10 miles from the main route I was on, so I decided I'd check it out. But by the time I arrived at the entrance, it was so cloudy and foggy I doubted I would be able to see anything of interest. I left and headed further North to Rapid City.

I got a hotel room to spoil myself for the last time on this trip...I'll be home in a few days, and I'll have a place to stay in Indiana, and, most importantly, I've been under-budget on this trip, so I figured one last hotel stay would be fun.

I woke up to rain and clouds, so I don't think I'll head back South to see Mount Rushmore. I'll head East across the state of South Dakota and then eventually SE into Iowa.

South Dakota is an incredible state, and I've only been near the Western border.


Monday, July 25, 2005

Day 24

Location: Longmont, Colorado

Got to sleep in for the first time in a while, and then Melissa and I headed out for Rocky Mountain National Park (only 60 miles away). Melissa was anxious to see some Colorado outdoors as she has been busy with work and not had much opportunity to visit many places. I also wanted to see the place, as it came highly recommended by Thad.

We spent a good four hours at the park - it was great having someone to enjoy a park with, after all the hiking I've done alone.

As you can see, it was an absolutely beautiful park. It was busy...a lot of people were out on the trails, but we still had time to relax on our own and enjoy the views.

After the park, Melissa and went out for dinner, saw the movie "Wedding Crashers," (which was hilarious...I haven't laughed out loud so hard in a long time), and then, of course, we went to a Cold Stone (#3 for this trip...I'm making it a crusade to visit as many as possible).

I'll head out early tomorrow...the plan is to make it to South Dakota. I don't have many specific plans, other than to eventually see Mount Rushmore and the Badlands. We'll see what comes up along the way.

I had an excellent stay at Melissa's. It was great to see an old friend.


Sunday, July 24, 2005

Aspen...where the beer flows like wine and beautiful women instinctively flock like the salmon of Capistrano

Day 23

Location: Longmont, Colorado

Total miles traveled: 9,300

I woke up early to avoid anyone bugging me for sleeping in the car, so I was on the road by 5:45. I was planning to drive to Eastern Utah to see Canyonlands National Park and Arches NP.
I was on Utah route 12, which is incredibly desolate, but also scenic. I had a good view of the Henry Mountains from a distance:

Route 12 passed through a national park - Capitol Reef, which was very nice to see while the sun was coming up.
I had a few more hours of driving before I would reach the parks on the eastern side of Utah. I decided while driving I would just visit Arches National Park, and then I would drive into Colorado, aiming for Boulder where my friend Melissa just moved from NY.

I arrived at Arches at midday. Although it was near 100 degrees, I did some walking around and had a great time.

Arches is known for its naturally formed arches in the sandstone. It is most well-known for Delicate Arch, which to get close to you had to hike 1.5 miles. It doesn't sound bad, but it's all uphill; however, it was nothing compared to the hike yesterday at Zion.

I'm very glad I made the hike to Delicate was a nice place to sit and relax, and you just have to wonder how long it took nature to create something so incredible.

I left Arches and drove into Moab to stop for some gas and buy some water. By 3pm I was back on the road, aiming to be in Boulder by 9.

The drive to Boulder was nice, despite some rain driving through the Rockies. It was the first time I saw significant rain since I was in North Carolina, so I definitely can't complain.

The rain and an accident delayed me, so I didn't arrive at Melissa's hotel until 10pm. Melissa works for Lockheed Martin and there wasn't an apartment ready for her when she moved out, so Lockheed put her up in a nice Residence Inn. Melissa bought some great tasting sushi for dinner and I stuffed myself, not getting to eat so nicely since Sacramento. She is an excellent host.

Melissa's hotel is just a short drive from Rocky Mountain National Park, so together we'll go see that tomorrow. And then we'll relax for the evening, and then I'll head out of here Monday morning.


Pictures from Day 22

I had some trouble last night posting pictures, but now the site seems to be working better, so here are a bunch from the 22nd:
(Be sure to read the entry from the 22nd below)

Zion National Park - Utah

Angels Landing Trail - Zion

Bryce Canyon National Park - Utah:

Saturday, July 23, 2005

nearing the top of Angels Landing trail - Zion National park

view from Angels Landing trail - Zion National Park

Friday, July 22, 2005

Day 22

Location: Escalante Outfitters - Escalante, Utah

Total miles traveled: 8,614

I'm sitting in a nice little coffee shop in the middle-of-nowhere town of Escalante, Utah. It's a very nice place with a little shop and attached bar. And they also offer wireless Internet, so I decided to stop.

Despite an unpleasant dream about a Tyrannosaurus in Endwell, I slept pretty well last night in my's nice not having to use my fleecy blanket in this warm Utahanian air - I get little red fuzzies all over my clothes when I use the blanket.

Anyhow, Zion National Park is only about 80 miles from the Grand Canyon so it didn't take me long to get there. I arrived in the early morning so I was one of few people driving through and got to enjoy the scenery, which I found much more impressive than the Grand Canyon.

At the recommendation of my friend Thaddeus, I took the park shuttle to the trailhead of the Angels Landing trail, which is just a little over 4 miles, round trip; however, it's an ascent of 1500 feet. The climb was definitely worthwhile, even though at some points on the trail there's only 3 1/2 feet of rock for you to manuever on, and then just sheer cliff. Needless to say, the trail isn't recommended for those with a fear of heights...I thought I might have some trouble getting near the top, where there are chains you can use to help you climb near the edge, but I actually was surprisingly fine at that height.

3 or so hours later after I got back to the trailhead, I stopped for lunch at the Zion Lodge, and then eventually took the shuttle back to my car. My next stop would be Bryce Canyon National Park, only about 50 miles away.

There's one major road that goes into Bryce Canyon that offers pull-offs for scenic views and trails. Tired from my earlier hike, I didn't do much walking, but I enjoyed the scenery from the pull-offs. I actually found this place more impressive than the Grand Canyon, as well. Thad put it well earlier when he described places like the Grand Canyon as "pre-packaged." It was much quieter and less congested at Bryce Canyon and it just had this feeling of being more "undisturbed" than the Grand Canyon.

Gotta get outta here...the place is closing. I'll post some pictures soon. Next stop...Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park, then I'll be just a short drive from the Utah/Colorado border.

I'm having some issues with the picture-posting feature on this web site...hopefully I'll be able to get at least one up, then I'll add some more later when it's working better.


Thursday, July 21, 2005

Day 21

Location: Kanab, Utah

Total miles traveled: 8,397

I got on the road shortly after 9 this morning and headed southwest towards the Grand Canyon. I would only be able to see the Northern Rim...even though the more popular Southern Rim is only separated from the Northern Rim by 11 miles (as the crow flies), driving the way around is about 215.

Although it was a little hazy at the Grand Canyon, I was still able to get some great views from the Northern Rim:

I hiked a little ways down inside the canyon...I didn't do it for too long as I was becoming more and more nauseous on the way down. You see, mules share the same trails into the canyon as hikers, so the trails are full of messy mule poop and the smell is awful.

Despite the smell, I was able to get some good looks at the inside of the canyon from walking down a bit:

I got back on the road shortly before sunset, heading back the way I came into Utah. My next stop will be Zion National Park which is near the SW corner of Utah...from there, I'll probably head towards Bryce Canyon.

I learned this evening that I'll have to be back home by the 1st, so I don't have a lot of time, but I should still be able to see all the destinations I had originally planned on visiting.

Gotta find a place to sleep now. Goodnight, everyone.


The journey continued (approximately)

Day 20

Location: near Nephi, Utah

Total miles traveled: 8,000 (exactly)

I woke up early and was able to catch sunrise on the Grand Teton mountain range. Though I had seen mountains earlier in the trip, the size of the Tetons, along with their location near water (Jackson Lake and the Snake River) made them quite enjoyable to view, especially as the sun was coming up.

And here was a sign in the park you don't see back home in JC:

Unfortunately, I did not see any moose.

Anyhow, I continued in a southeast direction into Idaho. I previously did drive through Northern Idaho when I was heading towards Glacier National Park, but now I was planning to spend a little time there.

I headed in the direction of a little city near the border of Idaho and Utah called Preston. On the way to Preston, I drove through Soda Springs, Idaho. You might remember this was a famous stop on the Oregon Trail (I only remember that because of the computer game - I still remember the graphic the game would show when you arrived there). And then I drove through the town of Grace, and I noticed the marquee at the high school:

I had no idea steer wrestling was a high school sport.

I continued on towards Preston. Some of you may be familiar with this city...first I'll show you a picture and then maybe you'll know what place it is...

Recognize this place? Notice the tetherball poll on the left.

Any idea?

It's Napoleon Dynamite country. Preston is where the movie was filmed and it's where the director and star grew up. I'm a big fan of the movie, and since I knew I'd be in the area I planned on stopping and seeing what this place was like. I like small towns, too, and that's the impression I had of this place when I saw the movie.

It not as small as I thought, but certainly not a big place by any means. Maybe something comparable to Norwich, NY. I stopped at a "Big J's" ice cream shop (not the one from the film where Kip and Uncle Rico hang out) and I purchased a "Sweet Map of Napoleon's Preston." The map told you where film locations were (about 12 in total), so I thought I'd go see the playground (above). The map also listed the homes that were used in the film, but I chose not to see those as the people who live there are probably annoyed enough with visitors gawking at their houses. I decided I'd rather walk down the main road in Preston (State St) and see some of the businesses that were in one way or another a part of the film.

Before I get into detail here I apologize to those who never saw the film or don't care for it. But I promise not to get into too many specifics here.

So on State St. I walked by King's (the all-purpose store where Uncle Rico scolds Napoleon for wanting to purchase a variety pack of something). I also walked by the "Cuttin Corral," - a barber shop not featured in the film, but mentioned by the main character.

Naturally, these businesses, and others along State St. are still using the film as a promotional tool even though it's over a year old. They're all selling T-shirts, posters, etc...and it works, as the town gets a number of visitors solely because of the film.

The last stop I made was at this thrift store called Deseret Industries. In the film, the main character shops here for the horrendous suit he wears to a school dance, and he also purchases a a VHS tape called "D-Kwon's Dance Grooves" here, as well. In the movie you can see the random junk that is on the shelves of this store, and I got to witness it first hand...I doubt the movie had to adjust the store in any way to make it appear strange. I'll describe just the "electronics" section for you to illustrate - on one shelf you would see a remote control, an old alarm clock, a transistor radio, two old Nokia cell phones, an original Nintendo (without wires or controllers), and one of those spotlights you can use for looking inside your car hood at night (without a bulb, of course).

The store also sold used clothes you remember those shirts you'd have to wear in scouts that showed your patches, name, and troop number? I noticed one of these shirts was on sale.

Most of the items in the store were priced between $1 - $3. So naturally, I purchased a lot of crap...bought some books, some records, some hats, and some electronic stuff - I ended up getting $35 worth of merchandise, some of which wasn't total junk.. The biggest expense was an 8-CD collection of classical music, which was surprisingly still wrapped in plastic.

Needless to say, I am no longer concerned with finding gifts to bring back home to the family...haha. I almost bought Brendan an old trophy that was for sale - "Dance Extravaganza - 1995."

Anyhow, I had a good time in Preston...not so much because Napoleon Dynamite was filmed there, but because it was a quaint little town. It actually seems like a pretty nice place to live.

I got back on the road eventually and headed South into Utah. I arrived at Salt Lake City around 9pm and I thought I'd relax for a bit, so if I could find a movie theatre, I'd stop and see a recent release. Fortunately, there was a "Cinemark" right off of the Interstate, so I parked there and bought a ticket for "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" as it was the only movie I wouldn't have to wait a long time to see.

The movie was pretty good...a lot funnier than I expected, and it was nice to sit in the AC and relax in a near-empty theatre.

After the movie I got back on the road, but didn't make it too far as it was late and I was pretty tired. I stopped at a "Flying J's" travel plaza for the night. Tomorrow (the 21st) I'll continue south through Utah into Arizona to see the Grand Canyon (which is in the NW portion of the state). After that, the rest of my traveling for the duration of the trip will never be any further south, as I'll head in a NE direction as I visit some national parks in Utah and Colorado, visit a friend in Boulder, and then drive up to South Dakota.

I'm aiming to be back home by the 5th...I have a lot to see in a small amount of time, but I think it'll be doable. It's unfortunate I don't get to spend a lot of time in any one place, but I think this way I'll certainly know what places will be worth visiting again, and for longer durations, in the future.

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