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2006 Pacific Northwest Vacation - July 23 to Aug 12, Part 8 of 8


My 2006 Pacific Northwest Vacation - 21 days, 6700 miles.
Days 18 (continued) to 21, Mount Rushmore National Memorial to Home.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial - August 9

Leaving Custer State Park, we took the Iron Mountain Road, which winds it's way through the Black Hills to Mt. Rushmore. There are a number of one lane tunnels, many of which were specifically carved to frame Mt. Rushmore through the opening. Very cool. There are also a couple of pulloffs, that allow you to see Mt. Rushmore and the mountain it's carved on. It's a very cool road.

We got to Mount Rushmore about 10:00am, after they opened, but before the majority of the bikers got there. The day started sunny, but was overcast by the time we got the Monument. So my pictures from 1996 are superior to these, but the Memorial's visitor center and other buildings were still under construction then. And since we had clouds, these pictures appear less fake. The clear blue skies of 1996 were just too clear, and too blue to be believable. Heh.

You will note, of course, that the pictures before we got to the Memorial itself had blue skies, and the pictures after we left had blue skies...

Mount Rushmore National Memorial
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Badlands National Park - August 9

Yellow Mounds Overlook, Badlands National Park.
I've been to Badlands National Park twice before, in 1996 and 1998. I don't know what it is about this area, but it's always *hot*. It was probably between 90 and 100 degrees in 2006, and I'm sure the bikers were suffering. At that temperature, moving just blows hot air around you. If you have a convection oven, you know what I mean.

Badlands is a beautiful park, one of those places that show the awesome force of erosion over the past few thousand years. It's one of those parks, like Bryce Canyon and Arches, that begs you take wide panoramics. There are some remarkably sweeping vistas here.

I mentioned this in my 1996 report, but if you're in the area, stop in at Wall Drug for lunch. Come hungry...

Badlands National Park, Part 1
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Badlands National Park, Part 2

If Wall Drug is where you can get food, bathrooms, souvenirs and air conditioning on the West side of the park, then Cedar Pass is where you can get that stuff on the East side of the park. If you're coming from the West, it's a welcome respite to the sun and heat of the Badlands...

Badlands National Park, Part 2
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SD-240, South Dakota

As you leave Badlands National Park and head back toward I-90, you encounter what might be the world's largest prairie dog, which is accompanied by a prairie dog town and a souvenir store...

We stayed in Oacoma for the night. We ate at Al's Oasis, and had a buffalo burger. It was pretty good...

We left the next morning, and even though it seems so long ago now, I make my final encounter with Lewis and Clark as we cross the Missouri on the Lewis and Clark Memorial Bridge.

SD-240, South Dakota
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Wisconsin Dells Area - August 11

Still a day early from cancelled plans in the Black Hills, so we decided to make it a 500 mile day and stop in at one enormous tourist trap, Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin. We took a walk through Wisconsin Dells (the city) and I think we ate at a Famous Dave's for dinner, because I had to have BBQ...

In the morning, we drove down to Spring Green and toured House On The Rock, an oddity of a house created mostly as a tourist attraction. It's pretty much in the middle of nowhere, but it gets its share of visitors. It might be an interesting place to live, but some of the rooms are downright scary.

Believe it or not, I was there once before in 197x, where x might be from 3 to maybe 7, when halfway through the house the power failed. I was given a rain ticket to finish the tour at a later date, but after 30 years, I have no idea where that ticket could be...

House on the Rock, Spring Green, Wisconsin
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Wisconsin Dells Area, Part 2

We took the Upper and Lower Dells boat tours, and for goodness sake, do yourself a favor and do the duck tour. Of course, I realize I could have a jaded point of view by this time, but I found the tours lame and... A tourist trap.

However, we did eat at a place called Moose Jaw Pizza and Brewing Company, a pizza / microbrew joint. It was excellent.

If you're up for some amusement, you can find someplace to watch traffic by SR-16 and I-90/94. There are a number of businesses and hotels on the frontage road, while US-16 goes between both frontage roads then you have no choice but to get on I-90/94. So those not paying attention, stay on US-16 to get to a hotel or restaurant, only to find themselves about to get on the interstate. There's a place to do a u-turn that get's quite a workout.

Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin
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Epilog / Final Thoughts

I'm not exactly sure how to qualify this trip.

It might have been too long, and at three weeks was a longest Road Trip I've taken. Maybe it would have been better if I had two extended stays through the trip instead of one. There were also the added stresses of the exhaust pipe, the botched hotel reservation and Sturgis. It could have been shorter, but my average of 320 miles per day would have skyrocketed.

Or it might have been too short. I could have more than filled another day on the way to Seattle. We really only did spend 20% of the trip in the Pacific Northwest, and another couple of days would have been appropriate, perhaps a drive further down the Pacific Coast and a visit to Crater Lake.

It might also have been the diversity of the things I saw which ranged from the extreme to the extreme. Historical sites from the earliest days of America's history to the first breeder nuclear reactor. From glacial peaks and mountain passes to volcanoes and endless, black lava fields. From rain forests to deserts and big sky country to caves with twisty little passages. An abundance of wildlife from those on four legs to those on two wheels. And dozens of things I may never see again.

Oh, and for the record (again), don't *ever* plan a trip near the Black Hills (and I'm talking within 250 miles of the place) during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, unless you want your trip ruined. The entire area around the Black Hills will be overrun by bikers for a distance of some 50 miles around Sturgis, and there won't be any hotel rooms for a radius of maybe 150 miles or more. I would even avoid Yellowstone and Grand Teton during that time if you have no hotel reservations.

If I'd known when I planned the trip, I would have planned a different route, perhaps bypassing Yellowstone completely and head down south to the Moab area for a couple of days. There's always more stuff to see in Utah. Heh.

I do have a couple of observations.

I should add, at no time did I feel threatened during my stay in the Black Hills. There was a gang related murder in 2006, but it's generally a bunch of motor cycle enthusiasts, from the hardcore bikers to the Harley wannabees. (If you trailer your bike to get there... Well...)

I will also add that I didn't go into any of the bars, nor the biker-only towns that exist during the rally. And in a lot of cases, if you're in a car, don't bother, like the historic mining towns, and even Devils Tower and Mount Rushmore.

Unless the Sturgis Rally is your destination, just stay away those weeks.
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I'm still not finished with my Lewis and Clark outings. I did revisit the Meriwether Lewis Burial Site in 2011. I still need to go see Clark's gravesite, and that of Charles Floyd, the only member of the Corps to have died on that 2 1/2 year journey. Historians believe he died of a burst appendix, and nothing could have been done even under the best medical care of the day.

I suppose it could be said I should do all the parts between St. Louis and Fort Mandan, but most of that had already been explored and even settled before 1804. Fort Mandan was pretty much the frontier for the former colonists trying to grasp what Thomas Jefferson has purchased from France in the Louisiana Purchase. I suppose the Teton Sioux had a lot to do with that.

I still can't quite figure out how Lewis and Clark did it. It did take Lewis over three years to do what I would do in 14 weeks, and that was with a 10-week layover between my Pacific Northwest Trip and my Philadelphia Trip. I did what the Corps did in three weeks, with the comfort and the convenience that none on that journey in 1804 could have fathomed in their wildest imaginations.

One has to remember that they were true pioneers, mapping and describing in journals places unknown to those back in the East, for the first time documenting plants and animals that didn't exist East of the Mississippi. Like prairie dogs. The huge, endless grasslands of the Midwest to the tortuous Rocky Mountains were something generally unknown beyond local knowledge. Between Fort Mandan and a couple score miles of the Columbia from the Pacific (they knew of Mount Hood), was a blank on the map. They were a complete, independent unit for over a two years.

There are really only three people in America's history that I'd really like to bring back from the dead to be able to show what the country looks like today. Benjamin Franklin, William Clark and Meriwether Lewis, who though the trip a failure because they didn't find that mythical Northwest Passage. Ben didn't live long enough to witness the Corps discoveries, but I'm sure he'd agree that the Corps of Discovery truly deserve to be counted among the early heroes of America.

So I guess whether the trip was too short or too long, I would definitely count this trip as one of the best road trips of my life. On the conservative side, the scorecard would read:

8 National Parks
5 National Monuments/Memorials
1 National Recreation Area
6 Historical Sites
2 State Parks
3 Scenic Byways and
4 Major Western Interstate Tourist Traps

I mean, I got to see the world's largest buffalo, Holstein cow and prairie dog all in one trip.

See, that's a Road Trip.

2006 meaningless statistics:

Days: 21
Miles: 6,698 miles
Miles/Day: 319 miles/day
Gas (Gallons): 257.70
Cost (gas): $839.65
Miles/Gallon: 25.99
Cost (lodging): $2199.74
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End 2006 Pacific Northwest - Part 8 of 8.

Jump to: Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6 Part 7 Part 8

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