On the Road With Doris & Ez

We're going on a road trip!!!! Could be three weeks could be three years, we'll see. Read below to see where we are now.....

Friday, June 30, 2006

Black Hills, South Dakota - June 17-24, 2006

The Black Hills of South Dakota boast some of the most beautiful scenery we’ve experienced so far. The terrain is rugged, but the forest is laced with beautiful, grassy meadows – each one prettier than the last. We stayed at a rather remote location about 25 miles from Rapid City and about 8 miles from the Mount Rushmore Memorial. Driving to and from the RV park was always an adventure since we often saw deer (as common as rabbits according to one resident), antelope, wild burros, and buffalo along the way. One morning we drove around a bend in the road and saw 30-40 buffalo grazing along a hill. There was a solitary bull that liked to hang out at one particular spot along the road. You can see the photo that Ez got by sneaking up close while I stayed back in the Durango with the door closed! We even saw a family of Bighorn sheep in the area near Mount Rushmore.

The Black Hills are also a tourist mecca, so in the midst of all this natural beauty is also a bizarre assortment of other attractions. You can visit the National Presidential Wax Museum, Holy Terror Mini-Golf, the Flintstones campground and the Museum of Woodcarving. We visited Bear Country U.S.A., a drive-through park where you can see elk, bears, mountain lions and other wildlife. (Of course, we heard in the news that the owners have been accused of selling bear gall bladders for use in Chinese medicinal treatments – maybe they should call it Gall Bladder U.S.A.??) See the picture below of bears at Bear Country U.S.A. "doing what comes naturally."

We visited the Crazy Horse Memorial where they’ve been carving a huge monument to the Indian leader for over 50 years ($10.00 per person admission, nightly laser light show, museums and gift shop). So far they’ve finished the 9-story-tall face and are working on the horse’s head. We did see one blast while we were there, but this may not be completed before our grandchildren are dead and gone. .

Of course, it’s the Mount Rushmore Memorial that everyone comes to see and it is spectacular. We spent part of a day visiting and then returned a few days later with our friends Mike and Florence to see the evening show. During the evening show they ask all military veterans (and their spouses) to come to the stage for a special ceremony, so the four of us joined other veterans of all ages for this special part of the program. It really is very moving. .

We also got a very important bit if business handled while we were in Rapid City – Ez and I got our driver licenses, so we are now officially citizens of South Dakota! We also played 9 holes of golf and I got the worst haircut of my life! After glopping three different kinds of product on my locks, my head looked like a brillo pad with a face! Oh well, I knew this would occasionally happen when I said good-bye to Kimberly who’d styled my hair for 20 years!

Our campsite was beautiful, and because we had no television, WiFi or cell phone service, we spent a lot of time reading and relaxing. We enjoyed a spectacular lightning storm one evening, and one afternoon we hiked to the top of the hill behind our camp where we could see the Rushmore memorial in the far distance. Even though we were here for a week, the days slipped away and we never did see the northern Black Hills where Sturgis, the badlands and Deadwood are located. I guess we’ll save these for a future trip. Next we’ll be working our way back across Wyoming toward Yellowstone and the Tetons. Stay tuned. . .

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Fort Laramie, WY - June 13-16, 2006

While the high plains of Wyoming have a unique beauty, our RV park in Fort Laramie was probably the least charming stop on our journey so far! It didn’t help that we arrived with temperatures near 100 degrees and 30-50 mph winds! The park was right by the railroad tracks and freight trains pulling 120 to 150 cars went by at all times of the day and night – and since there was a train crossing nearby, they blew their whistles every time! (Actually, even when they woke us at night, we generally went right back to sleep..) Another unfortunate circumstance – a forest fire several miles away filled the air with smoke, cutting our visibility and burning our eyes. The fire persisted for several days while we were in the area, although it really affected us just one evening.

In spite of these little problems, Fort Laramie gave us a fascinating look into the history of the American west – especially the westward migration of the wagon trains. Much of the original Fort Laramie is preserved as part of the very comprehensive national park exhibit. We toured the old officers’ quarters, commanding officer’s and surgeon’s homes, barracks, and other buildings. Many of the displays were decorated as they would have been back in the 1870’s and our audio tour included narratives from people who lived at Fort Laramie during that time. We also watched a firearms demonstration featuring two different types of rifles used during the civil war and later – Ez liked that! It’s easy to imagine what a welcome sight the fort would have been for the pioneers who had already traveled many months across the prairie to get to this spot.

Also near Fort Laramie were two other glimpses of life on the trail west. A few miles after the pioneers left Fort Laramie, they came to Register Cliff where many of the travelers carved their names and left other messages for those who came later. You can still see dozens of these names and dates carved into the stone. Unfortunately, every fool who came along after that also thought they needed to add their name to this historical landmark! They’ve tried to fence off the area where the oldest names are located, but the desecration still occurs. Too bad – it really takes away from this interesting site.

Just a few miles away you can see a vivid picture of what the pioneers went through at the Oregon Trail Ruts. Here the covered wagons were forced into a single line as they traveled up a hill and wore ruts into the rock over the years. At some places the ruts are as much as five feet deep. Here's Ez standing in the middle of one of the ruts. You can certainly imagine that this trip was no picnic! I’ll take the comforts of the motor home any day!

Next we’re off to the Black Hills of South Dakota to see the sights and take care of some business – getting ourselves set up as South Dakota residents complete with driver licenses!

Golden, CO - June 5-12, 2006

After spending time in so many small towns, we were anxious to sample a taste of urban living again. Golden is a suburb of Denver and we stayed in a small RV park on Clear Creek just a few blocks walk from downtown Golden. This spot is real popular with Golden residents who stroll and walk their pets in the nearby park and on the path along the creek. We had fun watching all the kayakers who practiced their skills in the rapids along this section of the creek.

We had several places we were looking forward to visiting in the Denver area – Costco, Camping World, and Home Depot were on our list. I wanted to get to Nordstroms, but had to settle for a trip to Foleys Department Store to stock up on my favorite lotions and potions. We made the obligatory pilgrimage to the Coors Brewery to sample their products and actually developed a taste for Blue Moon, the Coors version of a microbrew. We took a tour of the Molly Brown Mansion in a lovely old area of downtown Denver where they lived in over 5000 feet of luxury with only one bathroom!!

We crossed paths with our friends Mike and Florence again. Mike is a real railroad buff – he had an elaborate G scale train set in the backyard of their home in Massachusetts – so we went with them to visit the Colorado Railroad Museum. We also spent time with our niece Jana and her family who live in Aurora One evening we watched her son Casey, who’ll be on his high school varsity basketball team next year, play a couple of practice games at a local gym. Casey is in with some pretty talented company – three of the players are the sons of former professional athletes, including John Elway’s son! Jana and Paul also took us to some downtown Denver hot spots, including a comedy club. Needless to say, this was the most sophisticated entertainment we’d experienced in a long time. .

On the last day of our visit we walked to downtown Golden where they’d blocked off the main streets for a classic car show. It was a glorious day and we wandered among the crowd looking at all the vintage cars we can’t afford! Of special interest – a perfectly restored travel trailer from the 1940’s! It as very cool and had all the bells and whistles from that time, but certainly a lot different from what we’re traveling in. .

Getting around the Denver area means spending a lot of time on freeways, so although we had mixed feelings about leaving the advantages of city living, we were glad to head back to the less traveled roads. Next stop – Wyoming!

Monday, June 12, 2006

Buena Vista, CO - May 30 - June 4, 2006

After leaving Chama, NM we traveled up through the center of the state to Buena Vista, CO. Now we have our first sight of the highest points in the rugged Rocky Mountains. Our route took us through wide grassy plains surrounded on all sides by snow-topped peaks. Buena Vista (pronounced Byoo-na Vista by the locals!) is a charming little town nestled between the mountains on the west and the Arkansas River on the east. We enjoyed driving around town looking at the historic downtown and the quaint Victorian homes. Another flashback – the Comanche Drive-In Theater! We hadn’t been to the drive-in in over 25 years, but we couldn’t pass up seeing Tom Cruise in MI3 on the really big screen. No portable speakers these days – you tune to a specific channel on the radio to pick up the audio feed. That was the only high tech aspect of this flashback experience though!

The mountains of central Colorado are littered with the remnants of old gold and silver mines and the ghost towns where the miners settled. We visited several of these old towns – St. Elmo, Winfield and Vicksburg . Some of them are still inhabited or are partially restored, others are just falling into decay. But all of them are fascinating glimpses into how people lived back in the day.

One of our day trips took us across the Continental Divide over Independence Pass to Aspen. This road would almost qualify as a carnival ride with all of the switchbacks, steep drop offs and narrow roads. Aspen is pretty swell – lots of swanky shops, fancy dining and fabulous homes – so of course, we fit right in! We stuck around for a coupcouple of hours, had dinner at a Mexican restaurant, and then headed back home over the pass.

On our drive we noticed some old buildings on the far side of a lake we passed – we even stopped to check them out with our binoculars and wondered how you could get there. Well . . . our neighbors at the RV ranch told us how we could get to a trail that would take us to the buildings and some great fishing! The next day we hiked about two miles to the old Inter-Laken Resort that was built by a successful mine owner from Leadville. We visited his elaborate summer cabin by the side of the lake as well as the hotel and other buildings designed to amuse the wealthy visitors from Leadville and beyond. One highlight – a round outhouse with six separate compartments that featured leather seats! The height of luxury in those days I guess. .

The other highlight of the day was catching a nice mess of trout from our spot at the edge of the lake! I caught most of them – but Ez claims this is because he was always having to unhook my line when it got caught in the rocks or take my fish off the hook, etc. . . There may be some truth to that, but the fishing gods were also smiling on me that day.

We enjoyed the area around Buena Vista so much that we extended our stay for a couple of days. That gave us time to visit Salida, another quaint historic town, and get in a round of golf at the little course in Buena Vista. The course wasn’t world class, but the views were amazing! One evening we saw over 20 deer in a meadow that adjoined the course. We also saw about 15 Rocky Mountain big horn sheep grazing along the side of the road near the Arkansas River.

After enjoying the charms of small-town Buena Vista, we’re off to the Denver area on the next leg of our trip. Check in later for more of our hair-raising adventures!!