Leaving Montana was a sad thing for us because we just loved Glacier National Park, Great Falls and Fort Peck. The beautiful scenery we had become accustomed to had given way to prairie as we headed east to North Dakota. Time seems to stand still when you are traveling in an area where the scenery changes very little. That drive from Fort Peck to Bismarck seemed to be forever and man, were we grateful when we finally arrived.
We stayed in an absolutely fantastic state park called Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park. It was right on the Missouri River, just far enough away from the city that it was quiet, but close enough to Bismarck that we didn't have to spend all day in the car to do sightseeing. This park, by the way, is located where General George Armstrong Custer's cavalry was stationed prior to their march toward Montana and the Battle of Little Big Horn. The park rangers don period dress and take you on a tour of the place and discuss things that happened here using only terms that existed in the 1870's. If you asked a question that involved something beyond the scope of what existed in the 1870's, you were given a response that included a lot of confusion on the part of the tour guide. That was kinda fun.
While in Bismarck, we also visited one of the best state history museums in the country: The North Dakota Heritage Center and State Museum. I highly recommend a visit there if you are in the Bismarck area. The museum breaks down North Dakota's history into categories that include geologic times, early peoples, and then "yesterday and today" which discusses farming history and other industries that are important to North Dakota's growth. We could have spent way more time there and wish we would have discovered it on our first day in town.
One of the other things we did while in North Dakota was visit the "On-a-Slant Mandan Village" which is located in the state park. We learned about the Mandan/Hidatsu/Arikara Indian tribes and how they were actually very wealthy farmers. We toured through one of their mud housing structures and learned about the family unit and typical daily life of these Native American tribes. One of the more interesting things was spending some time with two of the park rangers who live in the Standing Rock area (the place where the big pipeline protest took place last year) and learned from them that things happened there quite differently than were reported in the news. No surprise there!!!
We only had a couple of days in North Dakota and headed further east to the 48th and last state of our journey - - Minnesota. Let me tell you, this state is not called "Land of 10,000 Lakes" for no reason! There's water everywhere in the northern and central part of this state. We stayed in a little town called Ashby which has two very sizable lakes around it. We took a couple of drives and visited Battle Lake and Fergus Falls, but our favorite was a little town called Alexandria. What an adorable town and if it didn't have winter, I think Steve and I would happily move there.
Our first stop was visiting the Legacy of the Lakes Museum. This facility housed some of the most beautiful pre-war wooden boats that I have ever seen. Our modern-day boats are all fiberglass and, in my opinion, have very little style compared to the old Chris-Craft and Garwood boats of earlier days. We read stories about the entrepreneurs who developed this region of Minnesota as a tourist destination and enjoyed watching videos of an old speed boat competitions that Gar Wood had won. There was also a temporary exhibit featuring nature photography by National Geographic photographer, Jim Brandenburg.
Next we stopped at the Runestone Museum next door and were pleasantly surprised. What we thought was just a small museum about the history of this part of Minnesota, was actually the story of the Kensington Runestone. What a gem of a museum. The Kensington Runestone was discovered on the farm of Olaf Ohman in 1898. It contains a message written in symbols he didn't understand but spent his life trying to decipher. Scientists and historians got involved to authenticate the stone and it's message which basically indicates that Christopher Columbus was not the first to discover America - - it was the Norseman who arrived in the region we now call Minnesota in 1362. Google it for more of the back story, but wow was that fascinating. We thoroughly enjoyed touring this museum, Fort Alexandria that stands directly behind it, and Big Ole - - a 28-foot viking that serves as the town's mascot.
From Ashby we headed south to Pipestone (pronounced "pippa stone" by our GPS). Again, small town America's charm can be found all over this place. It also is the home to Pipestone National Monument. This beautiful red stone has been mined here by all tribes of Indians for centuries. It is the base stone from which they make their peace pipes and holds very significant religious value to Native Americans. We spoke with a woman named Dancing Flower who was carving turtles out of the stone for sale in the gift shop. She was telling us that the Native Americans have to apply for a permit to quarry the stone and that her niece and nephew were busy quarrying stone that very morning. It is a very labor-intensive job as the stone is buried beneath first layers of prairie grass and dirt, then about 10 feet of limestone. It is a sacred thing for them to quarry and most find the struggle to be a religious experience they would not pass up.
While in the area, we also took in a rodeo at the Pipestone County Fair. What a hoot! We have been to rodeos before where we saw bull riding, calf roping and barrel races. We have never experienced team herding before and it was rather interesting. It goes something like this: there are 9 head of cattle all numbered 1 to 9, stationed at one end of the arena. The goal is for the four cowboys on horses to sort out the cattle one by one, and in numerical order, from one end of the arena to the other. Cows are stubborn animals, as we learned, and seemed to enjoy messing with the cowboys. We had a great time!
We took some time to visit Sioux Falls South Dakota since it was right across the state line from us. Boy did we fall in love with that city. The town, itself, has gone through several different lifetimes and is enjoying a bit of a boom right now. The architecture in the downtown area is absolutely spectacular and we enjoyed taking a trolley ride around town to get some of the history. We also visited the Cathedral of St. Joseph which was absolutely breathtaking. It was built between 1915 and 1918 and is quite a showpiece as the spires of the church literally tower over the city of Sioux Falls. I wish we could have attended services there as I am sure it would have been very special. From there we headed to the Falls Park, which is in the heart of the downtown area. First of all, it was unbelievably beautiful. Rushing water flowing over the pink quartzite boulders - - enjoyable for not only the eyes but the ears as well. What was also unbelievable is that these rocks are not considered a restricted area to visitors of the park. People were crawling all over them getting very close to the falls, etc. without hinderance. If I were about 30 years younger, I would have joined them. Steve and I took a trip up the observation tower to get a better view of the park and the city and absolutely loved it. If you are ever in the area of Sioux Falls, stop in and visit this park. You will find it absolutely delightful.
Our last stop was to one of the most interesting, off-the-beaten path places we have ever been: the United States Geological Survey's Earth Resources Observation and Sciences Center (EROS). This is the location that manages all of the USGS and NASA satellites. The purpose of these satellites is to record and analyze changes in our planet - - from the growth of civilization around major cities to the forest fires that are occurring all over our nation. It records the effects of drought and flood damage and a whole host of other things I cannot even remember. It was really interesting and a little surprise find.
Well, that's it for our travels. From Minnesota we headed east, first through Iowa and then through Indiana to arrive at our Monroe, Michigan home where we will be until September 15. Steve and I hope you have enjoyed reading about our adventure and seeing our beautiful pictures and also hope that we have maybe inspired you to make a visit to one of these places yourself. This country is so big and so beautiful and has so much rich heritage that it is worth taking the time to explore it.
Until next time, take care everyone!
Big Sky Country (Montana)
Glacier National Park - This national park was the main tourist attraction for our journey this past year and trust me, it did not disappoint. We spent an entire week exploring this place and could have done a few more days of hiking. For sure, this is definitely one place to which we will return. We met someone who told us that the glaciers will be gone in less than 50 years so if you are thinking about visiting this park, now is the time. In the meantime, Steve took a ton of pictures that try to capture the awesomeness of this park, so please enjoy them.
Our first adventure was to drive the "Going to the Sun" road which takes you from the western part of the park to the very eastern section. Since we have driven Pikes Peak a couple of times and hated that, Steve watched a YouTube video to see if he could get a feel for whether or not the BAT would survive the trip, and thank God that he did. There are sections of this road that are very narrow for a two-lane highway (actually it was more like a lane and one-half) and considering the BAT takes up all available space in the lane as it is, we decided to rent a vehicle for one day just to make this drive.
We had heard that the parking lots fill up pretty early so we arrived at the park at 6:30 am. The park at morning light is breathtaking. The sounds of nature are at their peak and it was blissful to drive the roads and just "be" there. Our goal was to hike to Hidden Lake so we drove to Logan Pass Visitor Center to embark on our journey. As we were pulling up to the parking lot, a bellbottom goat crossed the street right in front of us and stopped and posed for Steve. What a hoot and what a major gift that was for me as the bellbottom goat (aka mountain goat) is the one animal that I haven't seen in the wild and have longed to see since we went to Yellowstone some 15 years ago with Bev and Larry Miller.
Anyway, we arrived at the parking lot at 8:00 am and it was just about full already - maybe 5 spots left for parking. We thanked God that we did our homework and beat the crowds and then headed up the mountain to Hidden Lake. This is a 3-mile hike up some 700 feet, so a good bit of exercise on a good day. Unfortunately for us, about half of the route was snow-covered making for slow going and slippery steps. What should have taken about an hour to hike took more like 3, but it was totally worth it. About 3/4 of the way up there is a flat spot that was cleared of snow and there we saw rock sheep (aka big horn sheep) and more bellbottom goats. COOLNESS!!!! Both were losing their winter coats so not the most beautiful site, but it was awesome nonetheless. When we arrived at the first overlook, we were informed that the additional 4-mile hike down to the lake was closed because of bear sightings in the area. Regardless, the view from the top of the mountain to the lake below was spectacular. After lunch and viewing many waterfalls, we continued eastward to St. Mary’s Visitor Center to complete the "Going to the Sun" drive.
In addition to that hike, we also took the trail that led us out to Avalanche Lake. That was another wonderful hike of about 6 miles roundtrip. Again, it had about a gain of 700 feet in elevation but most of that was in a shady forested area, so the heat (it was close to 100 degrees every day) wasn't really an issue. Anyway, we had no idea what to expect but were told that this was the most beautiful place in the park, and it was not over-sold at all. When we arrived at the lake, it was a beautiful site for sure. But what took our breath way was the mountains that lined the lake had 7 waterfalls coming down them and running into that lake. WOW! How cool was that? Three of them were major falls whose water was rushing so hard you could clearly hear it. We sat and had our lunch and just took in God's awesomeness. What a great day!
We did some other shorter hikes throughout the park, visited other park locations like Many Glacier and Polebridge, and just enjoyed ourselves immensely. We didn't hesitate to avail ourselves of the local delicacies made from huckleberry - - world famous huckleberry bear claws from the Polebridge market, and a huckleberry shake from a local hamburger joint (no hamburgers, however, as we are still vegetarians). Our last trip was to visit the Hungry Horse Dam and lake. We kept passing the sign for this facility every time we went to the park so we decided to check it out and WOW, what a surprise. It's so well-hidden and back off the road that we had no idea of the size of the dam or the lake at all. Both were fairly sizable and it was a nice surprise to see. For some reason we have developed an interest in hydro power because we continue to visit these dam locations. HA HA!!!
From Glacier we ventured southeast to Great Falls. What an adorable little town. We spent time exploring the Missouri River here for various reasons - - 1) because of our new found interest in hydro power and the fact that there are 5 dams within a 20 mile stretch along this river; and 2) because we are both intrigued by Lewis & Clark's Corps of Discovery journey and Great Falls happens to be a critical location along their path. In 1805, Merriweather Lewis went ahead of the rest of the Corp to scout out the route for the team to take when he happened upon the 80-foot waterfall from which Great Falls gets its name. He ventured further down the river to find four more waterfalls and determined that the best way for the Corps of Discovery to move forward was to portage on land passed all of these waterfalls - - some 18 miles. If you think that it's a simple "pick up your canoe and walk" kind of journey, this picture of portaging should dispel that notion. I know that I have mentioned this book in the past, but I urge you to pick up "Undaunted Courage" by Stephen Ambrose. It's a great story.
Since the weather was so hot, we decided to take a little boat trip down the Missouri and see the "Gates of the Mountains" pass that Merriweather Lewis wrote about in his journal. On our ride, we were blessed with the opportunity to see many bald eagles and osprey and even saw an osprey taunting an eagle over a nesting location. The limestone walls of this canyon are about 1000 feet high and were very imposing but lent themselves to cool rock formations that made the journey downriver interesting. We also learned about a significant wildfire that happened back in 1949 called the Mann Gulch Fire. Interesting, but sad, story.
A couple of other things we did in Great Falls was visiting the Buffalo Jump National Monument where we learned just how important the buffalo was to the native Americans. When we arrived in Great Falls, we noticed a considerable haze over the whole city and learned from the park ranger here that it was smoke from all the wildfires in the area. She told us that Great Falls is actually a beautiful place to live because it is surrounded by mountains, but because of the haze, we could not see any of those mountains. The biggest of the wildfires was caused by a lightning strike that hit about 30 miles south of where we were and was still not completely contained when we left a week later.
Additionally, we visited Fort Benton which is about 40 miles north of Great Falls. What an absolutely adorable little town that was built in the late 1880's and was the first settlement in Montana. We visited two great museums there that tell about life along the Upper Missouri River - - Museum of the Upper Missouri and the Museum of the Northern Great Plains. After lunch, we did some geocaching and thoroughly enjoyed our time there. Later that day, we stopped to see the Great Spring State Park. This was such a beautiful little park along the Missouri that was accidentally stumbled upon by Captain William Clark as they Corps of Discovery was portaging upriver. The water was absolutely crystal clear but very cold.
The last exciting thing we did in Great Falls was to go to the Air Show at the local "international" airport (which probably means they fly into Canada from there because the airport was not huge). Anyway, the AIr Force Thunderbirds were flying that day and since we had never seen them perform, we thought we would brave the 95 degree heat and go to the show. Despite the fact that the show managers had no idea how to manage traffic flow, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. The Thunderbirds were awesome and the sound of those roaring enginFort Peckes was the coolest.
From Great Falls, we ventured east to a little place called Fort Peck. We decided to stop here because of the huge lake but were pleasantly surprised by the unique, art-deco dam (yes, once again we visited a dam). We toured the dam and met a lovely young lady named Katie who has lived in the area her entire life. When we asked her what there was to do in the area, she told us "you don't have to go far from here to be in the middle of nowhere" which meant, enjoy the lake and be happy with that!!!! We went into the town of Fort Peck and what a shocker that was. We drove around the entire town and saw not a single person - - I mean neighborhoods and downtown area were completely dead. It was like an episode of The Walking Dead and I was waiting for the zombies to appear at any moment. Cute town with a great theater, but apparently the people go into their homes and stay there. I saw some evidence of life because a sprinkler was running, but outside of that, nothing.
Well, that's it for Montana. We loved it and will definitely be back. It's a rather diverse state with the beauty of the mountains and lush forests at one end, high desert in some areas and then miles and miles of prairie in the east. All through it, though, the small-town charm of the people came through. I highly recommend a visit to experience "Big Sky" country. You can see for miles and miles and the night sky is breathtaking.
Alrighty then, folks. Our next blog will encompass North Dakota and Minnesota and our journey through Iowa and Indiana to get back to Michigan/Ohio where our families (with the exception of two of our children) reside. Until then, God bless each of you and stay cool!!!!
Love, Lauren and Steve
Continuing on from Portland, where I last left you, Steve and I ventured into Washington. Our first stop was an adorable town called Hoquiam where we camped so that we could visit Olympic National Park. As I mentioned in our last blog, the trees in this part of the country are just absolutely huge - - not just in height but in girth! There are trees here that are 40-50 feet in circumference. Unbelievable. We were told by the locals that the trees get to these massive sizes because of the constant, year-round rainfall. That is also why the roses are so beautiful in this part of the country as well.
While visiting Olympic National Park, we saw two very special trees: the largest and oldest cedar tree and the largest Sitka Spruce in North America. Wow were they impressive. We visited Ruby Beach in yet another attempt for me to find a tidal pool. I was unsuccessful, but Steve and I had fun wandering around all of the driftwood laying on the beach. The Pacific Coast, especially in the northwest, is so beautiful. We wanted to take in as much of it as we could on Ruby Beach because that would be the last of it we would see, probably for the rest of our lives.
After Olympic National Park we visited the home of an old logging executive named Polson. The house was absolutely beautiful and held some really interesting artifacts about the logging industry. Trees are not just beautiful to look at in this part of the country. They are the life blood for all the small communities in the Pacific Northwest. A good portion of the logging enterprise that existed in the early to mid-20th century is now gone. There are still a few companies (such as Weyerhauser) who continue to do business in the Pacific Northwest, but the economic boom of the timber industry has long since left the region. These small towns (like Hoquiam) have felt the impact but because they are so small, the people band together to keep their communities surviving, if not thriving.
From Hoquiam, we took the first steps on our long journey east and headed to the Seattle area. What a great time we had here!!! We visited downtown Seattle and did two of my favorite things - - rode the train into town from our campground in Puyallup, and visited the Dale Chihully Glass Museum. I was in heaven. As you may or may not know, I absolutely love glass art and Dale Chihully is the master of it. His pieces are breathtaking, not just because of their size (which is difficult to do with glass) but because of the brilliant colors he uses in his displays. Steve took some awesome pictures but you truly have to be there to appreciate the genius of his art. We, of course, went to the top of the Space Needle to take in the views and then ventured down to the waterfront - - mostly in search of the Elliot Bay Towers where Frasier Crane lives but, alas, they were not to be found (no surprise there)!
No visit to this area would be complete without a stop at Mt. Rainier National Park. Let me tell you folks, this is no average mountain. It looms over the cities of Tacoma and Seattle like you cannot believe. The thing is just huge. It's about 60 minutes from Puyallup or 90 minutes from Seattle but you would think it was just a couple of blocks away! Anyway, the park is breathtaking and we enjoyed some great hiking and awesome views. Once again, Photographer Steve did a great job trying to capture the grandeur that is Mt. Rainier but like Dale Chihully's art, you have to see it to believe it.
We did a couple of little side trips to the Puget Sound area and enjoyed the waterfront. We visited the Washington State History Museum which had a display on loan from the NFL Hall of Fame. There were several items on display from former Browns players. Steve was of course thrilled about this. A stop at Snoqualmie Falls was interesting. And finally, we visited the LeMay Family Collection of cars in Tacoma. That was unbelievable. The collection, itself, is some 3,000 vehicles strong and took us hours to go through about 25% of it. What makes this collection interesting is that most of the cars are nothing special. They are cars ones your parents may have owned. Well worth a visit if you are ever in the area.
After a week in the Seattle/Tacoma area, we headed east to Spokane for a few days. The terrain on this journey changes dramatically from giant trees and lush green, to flat and brown farmland. I was surprised by that. I don't know what I was expecting but it wasn't that. Anyway, while in Spokane we visited the Grand Coulee Dam which was an impressive structure. We also ventured just across the Idaho border into Couer D'Alene and had a very relaxing boat ride on the lake. Unbeknownst to us, a celebrity wedding was taking place there the very next day (Julianne Hough). Lastly, we took in the downtown area of Spokane which, unfortunately, was undergoing major reconstruction. There are beautiful falls in the middle of the city that were mostly blocked and the island in the middle of the river that holds Riverfront Park was closed. The skyride was dismantled and, well, let's just say it was like a ghost town. We did cruise through Gonzaga University, though. Nice little campus.
Well, that's it from Washington. Our next blog will give you our adventures through Glacier National Park, Great Falls, Fort Peck and Bismarck, North Dakota!
Until then, take care and may God bless you all.
Lauen And Steve