Monday, June 14, 2010

Minnesota . . . oops

So we're back on the road. And the fact that I didn't blog--or even take a single picture--during our whole time in Minnesota is no reflection on how nice a time we had there. We saw many old friends over many meals and had a great time catching up with everyone. We saw lots of Grandma Marga and Larry and Uncle Ben. The kids had a great time getting to know Dunkel, the 1-year-old black lab puppy the Tuthills got just after we moved last year. Margaret was especially good with the dog, begging to feed him and take him for walks everyday. By the last day of our visit even William was beginning to warm up to the dog. Unfortunately, we're all a bit under the weather after all this vacation and late nights with friends and family left little time for blogging.

I do have pictures from our last day on the road before we got to the Twin Cities. We made one last Laura Ingalls Wilder pilgrimage to Walnut Grove the setting for On the Banks of Plum Creek. The book doesn't actually feature too prominently in my own Little House literary experience but the Little House television series was set entirely in Walnut Grove so it remains a popular tourist destination. The kids were excited to see the actual creek.

But I am sorry to say that Minnesota gets a big fail in the welcome sign department. We've been avoiding interstates when possible and the road we used to enter Minnesota wasn't too concerned about welcoming us.

Today we set off on the road again and it was by far the best travel day we've ever had. It helped that we stopped with friends for lunch and so had a nice long break and some nourishing food. It then helped that we got some ice cream for an afternoon snack. Margaret never finishes her ice cream no matter how little we give her and she was kind enough to give William the rest which we didn't notice until after he'd smeared it all over his face and stuck the ice cream cup on his foot.

Good times. The kids all laughed together for a few hours and then all three of them fell asleep. I think today was the one of the only times they've ever all slept at once in the car and it was certainly a first for this trip. Then I fell asleep. It's amazing how fast a trip goes when we all nap.

We're now relaxing in Sturgeon Bay, WI for a day or so before pushing on towards home.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

South Dakota

Today was our only day of driving in only one state. South Dakota is long. But we also purposely kept the drive time a bit shorter for today and tomorrow so we could actually stop at some things we normally zoom past at 75 mph.

First up: Wall Drug. If you've ever passed within 100 miles of Wall, SD then you know what I'm talking about. We started seeing the signs for Wall Drug as soon as we hit Wyoming. The signs are just stuck up in the farm fields and are a bit more on the "homemade" spectrum although that is partly part of their vintage Western shtick. Neither Eric or I had ever been to Wall Drug which is, in fact, a drug store. It opened in 1931 and offered free ice water. It is now in it's third generation of owners from the same family and they still offer free ice water along with 5-cent coffee, amazing homemade donuts and . . . pretty much anything else you might want. The place is massive and extremely kitschy. We barely plumbed the depths of all Wall Drug has to offer but we did check out the fun backyard.
When you're at Wall Drug you just have to participate enthusiastically in all things tacky.

William's new favorite sign is "horse" and he's had lots of opportunity to practice out here in cowboy country.

Even Eric got in on the fun.

We pushed on through miles and miles of endless, but beautiful, prairie for the rest of the day before rolling into De Smet. I've mentioned here before that I've always been a Laura Ingalls Wilder fanatic. We finished reading the entire "Little House" series to the kids a few months back and I really wanted to check out the town where several of her books are set. The Ingalls family moved to De Smet when Laura was 13. She was married and became a mother there before moving on to Missouri in her twenties. It was really fun to see some sites and drive around the town. Since I know there is at least one other Little House fan reading, I'll offer a brief tour:

Loftus's Store. This was the store that bought the wheat during the Hard Winter and tried to sell it at a hugely inflated price to the starving townspeople. Ironic that it's the one still there.
Pa's office building where the family lived during the cold winters. It was wood then, not brick.

Just after Laura and Almanzo married, the Ingalls family "proved up" on their homestead claim and promptly gave up on farming. They moved to this house in town and Pa proceeded to do all the things he'd actually been doing in town all along to keep the family alive.

The site of Laura and Almanzo's homestead. They tried farming two different sites and utterly failed in both places. After selling this site and burning down the home on the other they moved into town as well before heading to the Ozarks and finally finding farming success.

After having read the Little House books compulsively for years and years and studying the real history of the characters every chance I could get it was really interesting to see the country in person. Much of the country is given over to large-scale farming rather than the smaller homesteading that was going on in the 1880s. This is certainly a loss in some ways but, on the other hand, no one in these families could make farming work in that difficult country with unpredictable weather. It was also slightly disappointing to see so many trees everywhere. When the land was settled up the government was offering "tree claims." You could own the land if you could keep a certain number of trees per acre alive for five years. Almanzo Wilder almost killed himself trying to keep his trees alive on the dry, windy prairie and gave up in the end. But some of his trees are still there. And while it's still a huge, rolling prairie, the groves of trees and windbreaks everywhere really break it up. I would have loved to see it before all that planting.

Eric is reminding me that I've been exhausted and should get to bed but I'm not worried because I've got:

That, my friends, is coffee. Thanks to our new GPS (thanks, Dad!) we discovered this morning that Grand Rapids, SD is home to a Dunn Bros. coffee shop. Dunn Bros. started in St. Paul and is definitely our favorite coffee. And their iced cold press is our favorite drink (I don't even normally drink iced coffee). When we ordered they offered us their new growler full of coffee which can be brought in when empty for a refill at a great deal. No more suffering through nasty hotel and gas station coffee! I've got the growler chilling in an ice bucket overnight and I will be glad for it in the morning.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Back on the road

Friends in New Jersey who are familiar with both our car and life with small children were dubious that we had successfully packed ourselves into our Hyundai hatchback. I confess that I really, really wanted a minivan before this trip but it did not work out. I opted to get super-excited about getting 35+ mpg for much of our trip and feeling like a logistics rock star with this packing job.

Our situation is definitely complicated by the fact that the wheelchair uses up quite a bit of our trunk space. It doesn't really disassemble very easily so we have to pack around it in a way that allows us to get it out at rest stops without emptying the trunk completely. My strategy is basically to use lots of soft bags so that things can be squished. When we are stopping successively for one night at a time I pack one bag of stuff we use every night and an additional bag for each day's clothes which is then used for dirty laundry. It works even if we do feel a bit funny about carting our unconventional luggage through hotel lobbies. We did opt to leave cloth diapers behind this trip but we also have an entire bag just full of books.

Lest you think the trunk won't really close over all that ;)
We are also fortunate that the kids don't really need leg room. Below Margie's seat is a huge bag of snacks, a bag of drinks, and two small bags of books and activities for the kids. Below Joseph's seat is a portable high chair.

Today's drive was probably the most beautiful and interesting of the whole trip. We started off with a couple hours of driving north with the Rockies to our left. Pike's Peak is beautiful but I was glad to see the greater concentration of high peaks around Denver.

Today was my first time in Wyoming. The combination of rolling hills, high mountains in the distance, and the random spots of sandy desolation were definitely interesting. We saw a real cowboy in action on his horse and saw emptiness to rival Western Kansas.

I'd also never been to South Dakota before today. Our whole year in Minnesota we hoped to make a trip out to the Black Hills and never did. We just loved everything we saw about South Dakota and it was the first time Eric said, "I'd love to have a cabin out here," and I immediately agreed.

We passed the still-incomplete Crazy Horse Memorial. I do not know much of the Native American history of this area though I am well aware that there is plenty of tragedy to go around. This sculpture has been in progress for over sixty years and is quite controversial but I will say that the carving of the face is quite striking.

We saw Crazy Horse on our way to Mt. Rushmore--another controversial mountain carving. The drive up to the sculpture was itself worth the short detour. The rock formations were just amazing. Partway up the hill there was a pull off and we wondered what everyone was staring at until we turned around and caught the above profile of Washington. Further up the mountain were the views of all four presidents.

I remember in fourth grade asking my teacher if we could be assigned a research paper on "any topic we wanted" just so I could write about Mt. Rushmore. I am sad to report that I have retained nothing from my fascination at the time but it was fun to finally see the monument.