Road Trip Reflections One Week Later

It was less than a week ago that I pulled into my driveway here in Chesterfield, Missouri after a 9-day, 10-state, nearly 3,500 mile odyssey.

As I’ve written in the About the Trip section, this was something I wanted to do for a few reasons.  I wanted the time alone.  I wanted to drive.  I wanted to see the country from the ground level.  Even today, I read a few reviews in the NY Times Book Review of travel books where the authors took the trips alone.  Mission accomplished.

While I wrote the daily travel logs about what I visited and saw, here are some more general thoughts, now that I’ve had a chance to reflect:

  1. Mount Rushmore.  Wow – what an unbelievable site.  “Majestic” is the primary word that comes to mind.  The park is located at the top of a steep incline, meaning that you see the mountain well before you enter the park, and you just get closer and closer and closer.  In addition, you can walk right up to the base of the mountain.  It was just awesome.
  2. The Changing Climate.  The scenery was different everyday.  I started driving along the Mississippi, with the breeze and the water.  Across Iowa was very flat, with fields yet to be sown.  South Dakota was rolling hills.  Nebraska and Wyoming were again flat, but with some neat land features, including Scott’s Bluff.  South of Denver, I started to see snow-capped mountains, and those lasted through to New Mexico, where it got brown and green (and no other color).  Texas and Oklahoma were drier, but then Arkansas was green and lush like Missouri.
  3. Starbucks.  For me, Starbucks was a godsend.  Coffee, fruit, snacks, and, above all, clean bathrooms.  Let’s be honest between us and the entire Internet, going #2 on a long road trip is problematic.  Starbucks in the solution.  There was one almost everywhere I needed it.  It will say, however, that there was a dearth of the local mugs that Starbucks used to offer everywhere.
  4. The Speed Limits.  In most parts, the interstate speed limit was 75.  This meant putting the cruise control on 83 or so and zooming from point to point.  As a side note, there wasn’t a single toll road the entire way.
  5. The Gas Mart Names.  Three come to mind:  Kum & Go, Toot & Totem, and Loaf n’ Jug.  Really.  Gutsy names, really.  In general, these were also safe havens for bathrooms, where I found clean ones even in the most remote locations.
  6. Mexican and Chinese Restaurants.  They are simply everywhere.  Pick a small town in the middle of nowhere, and I’ll bet there is at least one, if not both. It became a point of laughter for me after a while.
  7. Casinos.  Want to gamble on trip like this?  No problem.  I stayed at two (in Council Bluffs and Santa Fe), but could’ve gambled nearly every night, had I wanted to. I didn’t stop, but it looked like every bar in South Dakota had slot machines called “casinos.”
  8. Lunch.  This was problematic.  Breakfast is when you get up.  Dinner is when you stop at the end of the day.  Lunch was a challenge.  I got going in the morning with a list of things to see, and then it was suddenly lunch time.  If I stopped, then I might miss another stop.  Randomly finding a lunch spot that isn’t fast food is a challenge as well.  I would say that too often, Cliff Bars and trail mix was lunch.
  9. Too Much Driving.  If I had to do it over, I’d prefer to add days and slow down a bit.  I was in Denver and Santa Fe from dinner to breakfast and saw nothing.  I also suspect I wouldn’t have gotten sick with a rest day or two.  I did this for the driving, yes, but a bit more rest would have been nice.
  10. The Solitude.  The quiet is probably not for everyone, but it worked for me. I was on my own schedule; I didn’t have to wait for anyone to finish their meals or go to the bathroom.  I picked the radio stations, the music or the baseball/hockey/basketball games. I decided when to go to sleep each night.

One last thought on structure.  The travel writers I like have tended to travel unstructured.  No hotel reservations each night.  No set schedule at all.  Just a number of days and ideas where they want to end up, but with freedom to go where they wanted.  Someday I’d like to do that.  It’s risky, as you don’t really know what hotels might be available.  At the same time, there are plenty of apps now where you can find hotels at the last minute. So maybe it’s doable.  Maybe next time.

Day 9 – Little Rock to Home

By Monday morning, the barriers were mostly removed from the streets of Little Rock and all the trash from Riverfest had been picked up.  I had one more stop to make before heading back home – The Clinton Presidential Library.  It opened at 9, so I dutifully left the hotel, just five blocks away, at 8:40.  Nearly 30 minutes later, I pulled into the parking lot of the museum.

A rent-a-cop in a light blue polo shirt with no authority at all was directing people away from the road that led directly to the museum.  The road was empty of barriers and any traffic suggesting why it was closed.  It took me about two complete circles to figure out an alternate path.  Later, both the security at the museum and at least two docents spoke with disdain about that one guy and why the road was blocked.

Captain Obvious here to say that the Clinton Library was just a bit larger than the Hoover Library I saw 7 days earlier.  It’s a beautiful building just on the outskirts of downtown on the banks of the Arkansas River.  I thought Memorial Day would bring small crowds, but I thought wrong.  It wasn’t wall-to-wall, but I also didn’t have the place to myself.  There were many docents, many very knowledgable docents, but none that appeared to be under 60 years old.   All were clearly Clinton-ites.

Outside the Clinton Library

Outside the Clinton Library

View of Downtown Little Rock from the Library

View of Downtown Little Rock from the Library

There are two floors to the museum, and the exhibits start with a 12 minute film about Clinton, which he narrates.  There is a replica of the White House Cabinet Room and a replica of his Oval Office.  Most of the museum is displayed in a long, two-floor room – think an open library with a balcony on the second floor.

Me at the Oval Office

Me at the Oval Office

Spidey at the Oval Office

Spidey at the Oval Office

Down the middle of the room, there is a very detailed display of Clinton’s activities year-by-year.  Accompanying each year are binders that include Clinton’s daily schedule for each day.  I looked to see what he was doing the day my son Joey was born, and found that he visited a local DC-area high school and blocked time for catch-up in the office late afternoon.  Alcoves line the sides with more detail diving into specific issues, such as healthcare or education or human rights.  They don’t shy away from the impeachment, and Monica Lewinsky is even mentioned.  The backside of the timeline includes letters to the President and First Lady from celebrities and famous people, including Whoopi Goldberg, JFK, Jr., Dom DeLuise, Paul Newman, and Ann Landers.

View of the Main Portion of the Library.  Timeline is over my left shoulder.

View of the Main Portion of the Library. Timeline is over my left shoulder.

Upstairs is more about the social aspects of the presidency, including details on state dinners, holidays, gifts received, etc.

Bill's Saxophones

Bill’s Saxophones

The exhibit reminded me of the breadth of things that Clinton accomplished in his 8 years.  It reminded me that it was once possible for a president and Congress to work in a bipartisan fashion to get legislation through.  Remember those days?

The museum shop was located back towards my hotel, but the museum provides a golf-cart shuttle there and back.  After a round trip and buying $80 worth of stuff later, I got in the car to head home.  The options to head home were limited.  I could go east to Memphis and then cut up I-55 to St. Louis.  I could go northwest close to Springfield and connect with 70E.  Or I could take smaller roads that cut the difference.  I chose the smaller roads.  I’m not sure that was the right decision, but I made it home.

Most of the drive was on US-67, which eventually connects with I-55 about 30 minutes south of St. Louis.  Unfortunately, 67 doesn’t go straight through.  Right in the middle, the highway ended, and I (and a convoy of other cars) had a 45 minute detour through smaller towns, some with populations under 200.  It was like my drives through Nebraska days earlier or drives from DC to Delaware.  All told, the drive was a little over 5 hours.  On the way out of Little Rock, I broke down and ended my “no fast food” rule with a bacon double cheeseburger at McDonald’s.

Back in Missouri! Traffic was so light on this side road that I stopped completely to take this photo.

Back in Missouri! Traffic was so light on this side road that I stopped completely to take this photo.

By 5:40pm on May 26, 9 days after I left, having gone through parts of 10 states and driven nearly 3,500 miles, Spidey and I were back home.

Almost 3,500 miles!

Almost 3,500 miles!

Spidey and I are Back Home.

Spidey and I are Back Home.

Day 8 – Oklahoma City to Little Rock

On Day 8, I really did sleep in – to 9:00.  Woohoo.  I can’t say that I was completely rested.  I mean, how often can you get restful sleep in a hotel bed with hotel pillows and a hotel air conditioning system that roars to life periodically throughout the night?

But – at 9:00, I woke up and went downstairs to the hotel’s breakfast buffet.  The night before, I had negotiated a free buffet pass, because the executive lounge (to which I got access as a Marriott Gold Elite) was closed on weekends.  I got some fruit, sat down, and grabbed my iPhone to check Twitter. (I definitely have a Twitter addiction.) For some reason, touching the Echofon Pro icon didn’t work.  That was odd.  I pressed and pressed and pressed.  So, I did what anyone else would do.  I turned the phone off.  I turned it back on.  For security reasons, the fingerprint sensor is turned off at a restart, and I was required to enter my password.  But, every key in the bottom right of the keyboard wouldn’t work.  So, I turned the phone off again.  And on.  And off.  And on.  No luck.  The screen sensors had somehow broken.  So, my personal iPhone was kaput.  I switched over to my work iPhone, which had enough apps to be functional, and, thanks to iCloud and iTunes Match, had all my photos, contacts, and music.  It could have been a lot more painful.

After finishing breakfast (despite losing my appetite), I showered, checked out, and drove over to the memorial to the 1995 Oklahoma bombing victims.  I parked just across the street at a post office, which was closed on Sunday.

The museum honoring the victims and documenting the tragedy could not have been done better.  It compares to the Holocaust Museum in DC and the Peace Museum in Hiroshima in that it does not shy away from the horror, the cause, the perpetrators, and the legacies.  Survivor testimonials are actively shown on video.  Building remnants and personal effects of the deceased are shown.  The story of how they caught Timothy McVeigh is presented in great detail.  I remember in particular a dress on display that a woman was wearing the day of the bombing.  The display tells the story of how she was in a meeting of her team at 9:02 that morning when the bomb went off.  She was singed slightly, but was left sitting in her chair.  The entire rest of the team and table were gone, and all perished.  I can’t imagine.

Entrance to the Museum

Entrance to the Museum

The walk through the museum took about 90 minutes.  Afterwards, I walked over to the memorial itself.  Each victim is recognized by a chair, and the chairs are laid out according to which of the 9 floors each victim was on during the bombing.  The area where the chairs are located encompasses the footprint of the Murrah Building.  An elm tree remains standing in the spot it was during the bombing.  It is a symbol of the renewal, now called the Survivor Tree.  Honestly, the whole area is overwhelming.

Chairs Honoring the Victims

Chairs Honoring the Victims

Individual Chairs Honoring Victims

Individual Chairs Honoring Victims

The Survivor Tree in its Place of Honor

The Survivor Tree in its Place of Honor

The Reflecting Pool. The pillar behind me is engraved with 9:03, the minute after the boming, and one in front of me is engraved 9:01, the minute before.

The Reflecting Pool. The pillar behind me is engraved with 9:03, the minute after the bombing, and one in front of me is engraved 9:01, the minute before.

From the memorial, I pulled out of Oklahoma City and heading towards a Verizon store on the way to Little Rock.  The folks there were very helpful.  They ordered me a replacement phone, and helped me get online to forward calls from my personal phone to my work phone.  All was right in the world.  Or at least close.

My research had uncovered very little between OKC and Little Rock and, with the late-ish start out, I planned to drive right through.  What I noticed most was that the brush and open fields of Colorado, New Mexico and Texas were gone.  Oklahoma and Arkansas were green, much like Missouri.  There was still very little development, but it was green and lush.

As I drove into Little Rock, I saw a massive crowd along the river bank.  Something was going on.  Following the GPS to the Courtyard Downtown took me right into a police barrier blocking the downtown streets.  Fabulous.  I called the hotel, and they talked me through how to get to the hotel.  Turns out that I arrived in the middle of Little Rock’s annual Riverfest.  Streets were blocked, and there was a concert going on.  It was a mess for unsuspecting tourists like me.

Little Rock on the Horizon

Little Rock on the Horizon

After checking in and resting a bit, I headed just next door to the hotel to the Flying Fish, and ordered a basket of 12 fried oysters, a side of fried okra, and a Blue Moon.  It was tasty, but I only made it through 8 of the oysters.  I was a bit embarrassed.  I was also frustrated because I had somehow missed that crawfish boil was on the menu.  I was jealous at those around me eating crawfish.

Flying Fish Menu

Flying Fish Menu

And, with that, Day 8 ended.  All that was left on Day 9 was a trip to the Clinton Museum and a drive from Little Rock home.

Day 7 – Santa Fe to Oklahoma City

Day 7 was always going to be my longest driving day of the trip.  It’s 7 to 8 hours from Santa Fe to Oklahoma City, with Amarillo smack in the middle.  In addition to the distance, I would also lose an hour in the drive, shifting from Mountain Time back to Central Time.

Still not feeling well, I “slept in” and didn’t leave the hotel in Santa Fe until 9. By the time I stopped at a nearby Albertson’s for some Starbucks and more cough drops, it was closer to 10.  This time, I followed the GPS, veered off I-25 and connected with I-40 via US 285, which was 35 miles or so of very little.  Thank goodness I had gotten gas in advance.

The landscape in New Mexico was a lot of brown, then some more brown, and some green interspersed every now and then.  There were few other colors.  I’m not sure I could survive that on a regular basis.

140524 New Mexico Landscape

The New Mexico Landscape

Entering Texas!

Entering Texas!

My first destination approaching Amarillo was the famous Cadillac Ranch.  It’s a line of ten Cadillacs stuck in the ground at about an 80-degree angle.  They are just there, right off I-40, just west of Amarillo.  It’s open to the public, and it’s common for folks to spray paint on the cars.  Unfortunately, when I got there, the entire field was mud.  Only a few people were venturing out and all were tip toeing through the mud.  It was interesting to me, but not that interesting.

Mud and More Mud at Cadillac Ranch

Mud and More Mud at Cadillac Ranch

I had lost my hour when going over the New Mexico-Texas border, so it was close to 2 at this point.  I had noted a place for lunch called Golden Light Cafe, and set the GPS to go there.  This place had been featured on Man vs. Food on Travel Channel.  Golden Light Cafe is definitely a dive, but it’s also clear they are used to tourists like me showing up.  I grabbed one of the few remaining tables (beating a rush, it turns out).  I order a Bud draft and the Flagstaff Pie.  The Flagstaff Pie is simply chili, cheese and onions poured over Fritos.  It was fantastic.  The chili had the perfect spices.  This may have been my best meal of the trip, but it’s hard to choose between this and the meal at Dixie Quicks in Council Bluffs.

Flaggstaff Pie at Golden Light Cafe

Flaggstaff Pie at Golden Light Cafe

After lunch, I went on a mission to get my hair cut.  I stopped at a Sports Clips, but it was packed.  I drove by another barbershop, but it was closed.  I gave up, and got back on the highway, heading for Oklahoma City.  Realizing I needed gas, I pulled over at the first exit.  As the gas was pumping, I gave Google one last shot for a barber, and I found one in downtown Amarillo called 118 Classic’s Barbershop.  It was about 7 miles away.  I drove over in that direction, found it easily, and decided to give it a shot.  The place had about 6 chairs and a whole bunch of waiting chairs, but was empty save one customer.  Vince took me right away and gave me a haircut and beard trim.  Unfortunately, Vince took a lot more off the top than I had asked.  Yes.  it will grow back.

Vince and I at 118 Classic's Barbership

Vince and I at 118 Classic’s Barbership

Newly shorn, I got on the road for Oklahoma City about 4.  Unlike previous legs, there wasn’t a lot to see in en route from city to city.  I noticed the surroundings getting a lot greener as I moved towards Oklahoma.  I got to Oklahoma City around 8.  I stayed at the Renaissance downtown, which was also the host hotel for the Big 12 baseball tournament going on down the street.  Phillips 66 was a big sponsor and had its logo plastered everywhere.

After I washed up, I decided to head down to the Bricktown Brewery for a beer and their pulled-pork nachos.  On the way out, I ran into the Phillips 66 crew setting up their stuff.  I met Leo, who seemed in charge, and struck up a conversation.  When I joked how much money I had given his company in the past week, he said he appreciated it, and handed me an official Big 12 baseball championship bat.  That was very nice of him.

Leo from Phillips 66 and I

Leo from Phillips 66 and I

Two beers (the Remington Red) and a plate of pulled-pork nachos later, I returned to the hotel for bed at about 11.  I had already planned to sleep late the next day, so I popped yet another dose of NyQuil and went to sleep.

Day 6 – Denver to Santa Fe

Despite the best efforts of NyQuil, I woke up on Day 6 no better.  Chest congestion, sore throat, and probably certainly a fever.  But I really had no choice but to push forward.  So, I popped in two “orange happy,” better known as DayQuil, and set about heading out of Denver.  No worries about finding a Starbucks in Denver, of course.  Venti hot tea and a banana to go with a Cliff bar for breakfast.

As seems to be the pattern, my morning was crammed with activities.  The first stop was the US Air Force Academy, just north of Colorado Springs.  I had remembered from a trip there in 1982 how beautiful the chapel is, but I hadn’t recalled going inside or seeing the Jewish Chapel.  If you haven’t been to the Air Force Academy, then it’s hard for me to describe how beautiful it is there.  It’s nestled in a valley or flatter area surrounded by picturesque mountains.  The chapel sits in the center of the campus.

I was surprised at the lack of security when I drove through the visitors’ gate.  It was a good two miles from the gate to the visitors’ parking.  I had timed it perfectly, and I got there as the chapel opened at 9am.  It really is magnificent.  The Protestant Chapel is the entire top level and the main sanctuary.  It’s quite beautiful and majestic.  Downstairs, there is a Catholic Chapel that is about half the size of the Protestant one.  Towards the rear, are a Buddhist Chapel and Jewish Chapel.  My guess is that the Jewish Chapel seats around 75.  The Jewish Chapel was decorated in more of a reform way than orthodox or conservative.

140523 Chapel Exterior

The Air Force Academy Chapel

The Protestant Chapel Taken from the Altar Towards the Organ at the Rear

The Protestant Chapel Taken from the Altar Towards the Organ at the Rear

After the chapel, I got back in the car and drove south towards Colorado Springs for a quick drive through the Garden of the Gods.  I had spoken within someone at Mt. Rushmore who said this was not to be missed, and he was right.  It was a great drive and the balancing rock was really neat.  I’m not sure how it stays up there.

Me Holding Up the Balancing Rock

Me Holding Up the Balancing Rock

The Garden of the Gods was only about five miles from the Cog Railway that would take me up to the summit of Pikes Peak.  It’s in a town called Manitou Springs, which is clearly a staging point for hikers, bikers, and drivers all attacking Pikes Peak.  There are quite a few shops, restaurants, and watering holes there.  With that and the narrow streets came traffic.  It was slow going, but I made it to the station, got my ticket, and sat down about two minutes before the train pulled away.

There are two realistic ways to get up to the 14,000 some-odd foot high summit of Pikes Peak – you can drive or you can take the train.  I wasn’t interested in over 80 switchbacks with no guardrail, so I went train.  It is a 3 hour and 10 minute round trip, of which 2 hours and 30 minutes is in the train on very hard, uncomfortable wooden benches.  There was great scenery, especially as we hit the snow line and it started to hail.  But it was just darn uncomfortable.

I should mention at this point that my discomfort was made worse by the fact that as I made my way quickly to the train station, I left my Halls in the car, and I forgot to take another does of DayQuil.  Things weren’t going to get any better, and, sure enough, by the time I got back, I was a mess.  But – I digress.

Me Trying to Hold Up Well On the Train

Me Trying to Hold Up Well On the Train

The top of Pikes Peak was the epitome of “shrouded in fog.”  It was also thunder snowing.  So, as we pulled up to the peak, we had to sit in the train for about 10 minutes until we were given the all clear to move from the train to the building.  Inside the building was a cafeteria with supposedly “world famous” donuts and a gift shop.  The weather was so bad that they were not letting those who drove up drive back down.  While I was there, they announced a window for drivers to leave, provided they followed a snow plow and stayed two car-lengths behind the car in front.  I was able to get my picture taken in front of the summit sign, buy some gifts, and grab a donut before heading back to the train and the trip down.

At the Top of Pikes Peak!

At the Top of Pikes Peak!

I don’t remember much of the trip down.  At this point, the fever was definitely back and my throat was very sore.  I was jonesing for some DayQuil like I imagine a heroin addict might for his next hit.  I wasn’t sure if the seat was causing the body aches or my own body was.  By the time I made it back to the car, I swallowed the DayQuil, popped in a Halls, and closed my eyes more.

Traffic out was worse than the traffic in.  It was nearing 2pm, but I wasn’t hungry, and I had a long drive to Santa Fe ahead of me.  I decided just to push forward.  Everything went great until just south of Fountain, I came to a dead stop on I-25.  I had passed a sign highlighting a traffic accident “eight miles ahead” about two miles earlier.  If this was that jam, I was in trouble.  And, yes it was.  It took a good 30 minutes or more to go four miles.

The rest of the trip to Santa Fe was relatively uneventful.  For most of the time, snow-capped mountains where on the horizon, which is not a view you get in St. Louis.  I also added about 20 minutes to my travel time when I ignored the GPS’ instructions to get off I-25 for state roads.  My hotel was north of Santa Fe, but I had to go nearly into Santa Fe and then head north about 16 miles.  I should’ve listened to the GPS.

View Down I-25

View Down I-25.  Those are Mountains Over Spidey’s Right Shoulder

In addition to mountains, I was also watching approaching storms and trying to outrun them.  Without buildings blocking the way, I had clear visual to the rain coming.  At one point, in very northern New Mexico, I saw remnants of a hailstorm on the median.  In the end, I just encountered some rain.

After the Rain, A Beautiful Rainbow

After the Rain, A Beautiful Rainbow

By 8pm, I had made it close to the hotel and stopped at a place called Gabriel’s for some local Mexican food.  I chose the fish tacos over the crab enchiladas, and I made the wrong choice.  But, the DayQuil had zapped me of an appetite anyway.  And, the specialty of the restaurant was guacamole made fresh at your table.  Since I don’t really like guacamole, that had no impact either.

I got to my hotel, the Buffalo Thunder Casino and Resort, around 9:30pm.  Of course, given that I’d be there just one night, I got upgraded to a massive one bedroom, 1 1/2 bath suite. It always seems to work that way.  After losing about $80 in the casino, I took yet another does of NyQuil and went to bed.

Day 5 – Mount Rushmore to Denver

I will probably best remember day 5 as the day that I started to get sick, and DayQuil became my friend.  The sore throat started as I drove from Nebraska towards Cheyenne, and congestion and fever were in place by the time I got to the Residence Inn in Denver.  When I packed, I specifically did not take my normal bag of medicine that I take on overseas trips.  “There’s a Walgreens everywhere,” I said to myself.  Yes.  Yes there is.  Two blocks from my hotel in downtown Denver.

The day started incredibly.  I got up early and left Keystone around 7 for the 35 minute drive over to the Crazy Horse Memorial.  It is a work in progress and has been so since 1948.  The original sculptor moved to South Dakota and lived the rest of his life on the mountain, and now his children are doing the work.  Sadly, the sculptor’s wife, a massive influence on the project, passed away the night before I arrived.  Given the ambition of the sculpture, I can’t imagine a date when it might be done.

Scale Model with Monument in the Background

Scale Model with Monument in the Background

Spidey with a Better View of Crazy Horse

Spidey with a Better View of Crazy Horse

From Crazy Horse, I took a meandering 2 and a half hour drive over to Alliance, Nebraska.  Much of this was on roads where I was one of only a handful of cars.  Good for South Dakota and Nebraska for posting 65 mph speed limits or higher.  The highlight of this drive was going through Custer State Park and seeing buffalo.

140522 Buffalos

In Alliance, I visited Carhenge.  To say that Carhenge is in the middle of nowhere would be an understatement.  I was talking to Jessie on the phone as I drove down the road and had to say “Whoa. I”m here.  Call you back.”  Carhenge is a model of Stonehenge made entirely out of old cars.  Why it’s here, I’m not sure, but it’s a neat stop to walk around.  It’s obviously been here a while, as I saw an old AMC Pacer and an AMC Gremlin among the cars used.  I don’t think you can find those today very easily.

Carhenge!

Carhenge!

Spidey at Carhenge

Spidey at Carhenge

From Carhenge, I drove about another 45 minutes to Chimney Rock, a national monument site.  The drive took me through Alliance and then through Bayard, Nebraska.  While Alliance was a decent sized town, with some fast food (Taco Johns is particularly big out here), Bayard was perhaps a symbol of that area’s decline.  The main street was almost completely shuttered businesses except the post office and the Dollar General store.

140522 Chimney Rock

Chimney Rock

After Chimney Rock, I drove another 30 minutes to Scotts Bluff, which is located at the Oregon Trail.  Here, they have some history of the Oregon Trail and some fantastic vistas from which you can see where people walked.  The park ranger there was happy to explain things to me, but, for a guy in a remote part of Nebraska, I’m not sure why he had a sidearm and a taser on his belt.

Spidey at Scotts Bluff

Spidey at Scotts Bluff

As I stood at the top of Scotts Bluff in the wind, I realized I wasn’t feeling that great.  Not only was that bad news, but I also checked the radar and saw that my trip to Cheyenne would take me right into rain.  The trip to Cheyenne was non-eventful, except for the real piece of tumbleweed that went across I-80.  I attempted to find a restaurant I had noted that served breakfast all day, but it was closed or out of business; I didn’t stop to find out.  Cheyenne didn’t look like much, so I stopped at a Starbucks for coffee, swung by the State Capitol, stopped for gas and headed for Denver.  At the gas stop, I bought Gatorade, a strawberry shortcake ice cream bar, and a DayQuil/NyQuil two-pack.  The cashier was very nice and said that she had been sick for 10 years since moving to Wyoming.  Fabulous!

The Wyoming State Capitol - Abou All I Saw in Cheyenne

The Wyoming State Capitol – About All I Saw in Cheyenne

I-25 towards Denver went through Fort Collins and just east of Boulder.  The drive was fine about 20 minutes north of Denver when the rain started and the traffic picked up.  It was rush hour, but going towards Denver didn’t seem to matter.  This traffic wasn’t as ugly as the one I hit outside of Colorado Springs on Day 6, but it was slow going, and I wasn’t feeling well.

The Residence Inn in Denver was comfortable.  The front desk guy took a look at me and offered to send some tea up to the room.  After a side trip for some pizza at Mici’s and some more medicine, I called it an early night.

Day 4 – Sioux Falls to Mount Rushmore

This was destined to be a long day, but I gained an hour moving from the central time zone to the mountain time zone, and that made the difference – I think.

I left the hotel in Sioux Falls around 7:15 and headed for a Starbucks – perhaps the Starbucks in Sioux Falls.  The drive-thru there was packed.  I got a coffee, but I was very disappointed that the store had no South Dakota mugs at all.  The manager said that she had tried to get them, but they just didn’t exist.

The plan was to drive out I-90 for three hours or so, have a late breakfast at the Happy Chef in Kadoka, and then continue to the Badlands and a Minuteman Missile exhibit. So, I didn’t eat much in the morning, other than a banana and a cliff bar.  When I got to Kadoka, the restaurant was nowhere to be found.  It certainly wasn’t where Google Maps and Trip Advisor said it was supposed to be.  I tried the phone number, and it was disconnected.  Bummer.

With no restaurant in sight, I headed down I-90 for the Badlands.  Right off the exit, I stopped at a convenience store to fill up, and I noticed that the Minuteman Missile National Historical Site was at one end of the parking lot. I went in and got a ticket for a 1:30 tour of an underground control facility just down the highway.

From there I continued on to the Badlands, but got waylaid by a bunch of prairie dogs at a very touristy store at the side of the road.  Boy, are they cute! I got some peanuts and fed them.  They are trained now to come right up to the tourists to get the peanuts.

Spidey and the Prairie Dogs

Spidey and the Prairie Dogs

Badlands was a few miles down the road.  It’s hard to describe how beautiful that area is.  The pictures do some justice, but you really have to go.

Me at The Badlands

Me at The Badlands

The full loop through the Badlands took just over an hour with stops. When I got back to I-90, I headed for the missile control facility.  I can’t say that I followed all that the Park Ranger said about which missile and which squadrons, but I know that two people sat underground for 24 hours at a time, during which time they could launch missiles with the right codes.  Scary.  In addition, in the event of a nuclear war, they were basically stuck down there to die.

Inside the Missile Control Facility - 40 feet underground.

Inside the Missile Control Facility – 40 feet underground.

After the tour, I headed back west on I-90 and stopped at Wall Drug.  I had seen billboards for Wall Drug since just outside Sioux Falls.  The only parallel I know of is “South of the Border,” which has signs on I-95 from Virginia down to the North Carolina/South Carolina border where it’s located.  I had been the Wall Drug when I was 16.  This time, it really wasn’t that interesting.  I bought a t-shirt and some coffee and was on my way.  By then, it was already 3pm.

Spidey at Wall Drug

Spidey at Wall Drug

It took me about 80 minutes, heading west and then south just before Rapid City, to get to Mount Rushmore.  I had also been there before when I was 16, but I clearly didn’t remember its majesty. You can see the mountain as you come up a hill and around a corner to the park.  There is a trail that takes you up to the base of the mountain, and from there you can see the nuances of the sculpture. There is also a sculpture studio, where they have the last prototype before construction started.  The original plans included hands and bodies!!  They found that they couldn’t do it, once they got up to the mountain.

Mount Rushmore from the Presidential Trail

Mount Rushmore from the Presidential Trail

I was ready to leave Mt. Rushmore by 5:30, but I still hadn’t had a real meal by then.  I had subsisted on cliff bars, goldfish, pretzels, diet Pepsi and water.  So, I found the Powder House, a local restaurant which, it turns out, had opened for the season just a few days earlier.  After some wine, a salad, and steak, I felt a lot better.  Now, I’m at the local Holiday Inn Express, ready for some sleep.