A journey of 8,000 miles begins with:
After driving from Seattle to Spokane to visit our nephew and family the day before, we start our adventure on this day barely able to contain our excitement! 28 days of open road lay ahead, our Roadrunner loaded down with spare parts and luggage, but still powerful and roadworthy. The gentle climb to the 6,300 ft elevation was only hindered momentarily by a vapor lock at 75 mph during the climb (I quickly hit the backup Carter electric fuel pump and that took care of the problem without losing more than 10 mph before the motor recovered.
Butte is one the quintessential, but seemingly ubiquitous old west mining towns that dot the American landscape either on the road or in our Hollywood motion pictures. Peaking at the turn of the century, Butte was one of the main sources of copper for the electrical and telephone lines that eventually dominated our infrastructure. The town is loaded with the mansions of those who profited from the copper boom, still prospers, and home to Montana Tech. Butte, MT. And indeed, Montana is “Big Sky” country.
The road from Butte to Billings was another road trip driving dream. Stretches of road that were once seen by us as tedious because of trying to make a destination on time, now seemed like pathways across some of this earth’s most untouched topography. The country here is so vast we didn’t feel that pictures could capture it. Furthermore, this part of the trip was so filled with anticipation that photographs were the last thing on our minds. A pity because when we arrived in Billings, Mt, the town was preparing for one of it’s premier events: “Burn the Point” (a weekend dedicated to Hot Rods and Collector cars). Over 500 cars participated in this years opening parade. I had to wait over 1/2 hour with the engine idling to get into the main parade route, then after 15 minutes of cruising about 2 blocks of the spectator lined streets (at least 3 deep), the overflow can reached it’s capacity and began puking a bit of fluid. The crowd got into it with screams of: “You’re leaking antifreeze all over!!!!.” Unbeknown to me, they were pointing at a huge puddle left by another car and concluded that the drip from my overflow had caused it. However, they succeeded in panicking me and I quickly signal the parade marshals that I was done and they opened up a path for me to exit. What a pity – we were just starting to get into the spirit of the parade. Vicki was giving out Bardahl stickers to kids along the parade route and marveled at how well behaved and courteous they were in accepting them. We could hear parents saying: “now be sure to say Thank You!.” It was obvious that good manners are highly valued out here.
Not all is lost with my lack of photos, check the websites for “Burn the Point” – some have over 400 pictures of the street machines in the parade. This one is quite good: www.facebook.com/pages/Burn-The-Point/192796127049
Off to Deadwood! Why Deadwood? A number of reasons, but first – it was the site of the 2nd largest Chinatown (per capita population) in the U.S. (San Francisco was the largest) in the 1870’s and 80’s. Being of Chinese descent and my great-grandfather having worked on building the Transcontinental Railroad in the 1860’s, it was a natural for me to try to pay homage to my American “roots.” Second was the HBO series: “Deadwood,” and finally – it was the lure of the old West legends like: Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, and Seth Bullock – thrown together in a lawless, wide open town in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
But on the way there………”The Little Big Horn Battlefield National Monument!” If there was one place that can tell it’s own tale, it’s here at this National Park. Such a tragic clash of cultures. Native Americans, pushed onto reservations, deprived of adequate food, but promised through written treaty that their sacred Black Hills would be theirs’ forever…….then betrayed by 1000’s of gold seekers coming mine their sacred hills. Custer and the US Calvary find themselves caught up in this toxic mix. We learned that almost 1/2 of the soldiers were foreign born. The native Americans were prepared for the fight. And the fight ended on a very lonely knoll – now forever remembered by this most solemn of National Monuments.
Mt. Rushmore was less than an hour away from Deadwood and we took full advantage of it’s proximity. Rushmore, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone – they all have the same affect on me – they appear so unreal!!! It’s like their fake. Nothing can be that huge and magnificent. I still can’t decide what is more extraordinary about Rushmore: the having such a vision of such a mammoth sculpture, or the undertaking to create this monument. Over half of the visitors, spoke in a different language. We spend alot of time swaping cameras with other couple so that they could get a photo of themselves (and ourselves).
We decide to really experience Deadwood by going up the Cemetery and visit Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane’s grave sites. The majority of the graves are from the late 1800’s, some mass burials as a result of disease and huge fires.
We arrived in Dickenson, ND, only to be complimented by the hotel staff for having the insight to book the room way in advance (just dumb luck that I had booked it through AAA a week prior to leaving) as there were no rooms of any kind left in the town (who would have thought!). In fact, this room, nice, but not great, was the most we paid for room so far. It appears that the oil sands boom has drawn workers from everywhere, and there is still no end in sight. We met workers at the motel, who thought that they were only going to be working a few weeks, still trying to leave after 8 months. No sign of unemployment here.
This drive began as a serene cruise by acres of sunflowers, wheat, and other farm products (that I’m too urbanized to recognize but nevertheless have their own beauty) ………that suddenly turned into the highway from hell. The woman at the motel desk warned me that if I was going to travel highway 57 that I should be aware that the lake in that region had risen 30 feet in the past 20 years and that there was a massive highway project there to raise the road high enough to avoid future road washouts. Somehow, I didn’t quite comprehend that that was exactly the route that my antiquated Magellan GPS was going to direct me towards in order to reach my destination: Devil’s Lake (I never made the connection that this was the lake she was speaking about). So, with only 50 miles left before we were to reach Devils Lake, the leisurely drive became one of dirt road, gravel road, baseball sized rock road – turning from two lane, to one lane with a guide car. And the guide car would guide us through narrow spaces which were flanked by either very large machinery, large mounds of boulders and large rocks, or just actual lakefront. I bottomed the car several times, the car was completely covered with mud and sand, and I averaged about 3 – 5 mph for at least 20 miles. At the last segment of this highway reconstruction project, there was a turnoff to a very beautifully and newly developed area with a gas station and a casino. It was the Spirit Lake Casino on Native American Reservation land. Almost immediately the some of the local residents, one of the casino guards, and a carload of teenagers came around the car and asked permission to take pictures. The Road Runner was a mess, but they just loved the fact that it was a muscle car. One of the guys mumbled a comment that said it all: “Man, if I had a car like this…..I wouldn’t have driven it on this road……I would have taken the other way around.”
Today we headed off to Cando (pronounced “can dew”) which is a small town about 40 miles north of Devils Lake. Why Cando? My wife’s father was born there and for the past 20 she had been interested in finding out more of her family history. Having limited information about her grandparents, this is where she thought it best to track down some of her family history as well as their immigration path to America from Scandinavia. I love these “roots” pursuits. We lucked out. The town’s history museum was housed in their City Hall, so history and past records were easily found..
400 miles from Devils Lake, ND to St. Paul, Minn. An easy drive despite numerous highway construction projects along the way. We just glimpsed Grand Forks and Fargo as we sped by on divided highway. Hit St. Paul, Minn. just in time for rush hour! But keeping a nice speed in the fast lane………..until the motor started bogging and I knew that I had a fuel delivery problem. I managed to make it across lanes to an offramp (with the help of my backup electric fuel pump and jerking the car around to slosh any remaining fuel into the pickup). Halfway up the ramp, the motor finally died and the A/C started just blowing warm air. Stranded off to the side, I called AAA and they said that they would be there as fast as they could. Meanwhile, a guy in a cherry lowered black Chev pickup drove past, looked, hesitated, and then drove off. Vicki remarked: “I thought hot rodders helped one another!”….and I callously replied: “he was a Chevy guy.” Well, 15 minutes later, he drove back up the ramp after driving miles back to the previous onramp to get back to help us. He volunteered to drive to get gas, but I told him about the AAA truck en route, so he stuck around to make sure that that happened.
It turned out that all the bouncing over the dirt and gravel road to Devils Lake killed the gas gauge’s accuracy: 1/4 tank on the gauge now equaled empty.
Our good fortune continued when we had ribs at the Famous “Gabe’s” resturant in St. Paul – it happened to be 1/2 off night for pork ribs – delicious.
St. Paul, Minn. to Madison, Wis. (260 miles).
Totally acting like tourists, we took complete advantage of Wisconsin’s heritage of cheese making and stocked up of them as soon as we entered the state. And then we utilized practically every rest area en route to Madison to stretch out and snack on at least three varieties at each stop. We arrived in Madison while it was just cooling down to a comfortable 75 degrees and was able to drive around and find the best spot to be on a Friday night. The area around the Capitol Building was hopping!!! The University of Wisconsin was just back in session and the countless sidewalk cafes were packed. We lucked out again and found a nice outdoor table at a popular restaurant that was running their famous Friday night special: Fish Fry Friday! Perfect, and again delicious.
Madison, WI to St. Louis, MO (360 miles).
Except for the highway construction projects that we have now learned to expect, the drive on the Interstate was smooth and “relatively” fast. We have not gone more than 75 miles anywhere during this road trip where there wasn’t highway repair or construction occurring. From the perspective of our media and other news sources, you get the impression that nothing is happening with our Federal stimulus money, but so far, after 2,000 miles of driving our highways towards the Mississippi, we find robust highway construction activity everywhere that has been funded by our federal and state governments.
As we got closer to St. Louis via Springfield, Ill, we started seeing signs for the Lincoln Home National Historical Site. Vicki kept on urging a stop there despite my usual tendency to set arrival goals rather than actually see and experience our country. And was it ever worth it!!! The Historical Site featured the complete restoration of Lincoln’s home where he first started his law practice, where he was elected to the State Legislature, and where he was ultimately informed that he had won the Republican Party’s nomination for the Presidency of the United States! In addition, 2 square blocks of his neighborhood were restored and you could walk down the same streets, sidewalks, as well as through Abe and Mary Lincoln’s home. A wonderful experience, and the guided tour cost just a nominal amount.
We arrived in St. Louis in darkness, but eventually navigated to our Motel despite some misdirection’s from our GPS unit.