Quick – tell me something you know about Herbert Hoover. Um, me too – couldn’t come up with much. Not to worry. I’ll help you out with some info in case you get asked at your next cocktail party. Here’s what we learned at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Museum in West Bend IA, our last big stop on our way home.wp-1477663349493.jpgIf you Google unpopular or worst President, Hoover’s name will be near the top, if not in the top spot. But, he had a pretty interesting road to the White House – he was orphaned at an early age, separated from his siblings, and raised by a variety of relatives. His Stanford degree in Mining Engineering took him to live in China and Australia, where he earned the rather astonishing (to me, anyway) salary of $10,000 in 1898.wp-1477663341240.jpg His rise in the political world came in 1914, when he was recruited to lead the effort to relieve famine in Belgium. Later, his popularity soared as Secretary of Commerce (he was often referred to as Secretary of Everything).wp-1477662753953.jpg In the 1928 election, he crushed his Democratic opponent Alfred E Smith (444/87 electoral votes).

Then came October 1929. Banks crashing, nearly 25% unemployment, widespread dispair. Hoover declined to provide direct assistance to families, relying instead on voluntary efforts, “A voluntary deed is infinitely more precious to our national ideas and spirit than a thousandfold poured from the Treasury.” He didn’t stand a chance in the 1932 election. Roosevelt trounced Hoover. (472/59 electoral votes) Back to private life. wp-1477663153688.jpg He briefly emerged in 1946 to assist Truman with global famine relief.

Fun facts? He was one of only two US Presidents to donate their salary. (Yep, Kennedy was the other). He abolished the White House stables, and mothballed the Presidential yacht upon entering office. He did propose a $50/month pension for all Americans over age 65, but that idea never went anywhere. Seems evident that he suffered from a lack of political clout, combined with the true passion to make things happen.

The Museum and surrounding area was interesting – I really liked the sculptures that are shown in the photos. There weren’t many folksy or fun things in the Museum, but I did enjoy this Life Mask, created in 1919.wp-1477662712138.jpgWe’ve now visited all the Presidential Museums but four – Nixon (we went there this spring, but it was closed for renovation), Bush, Bush, and Carter. Hope to see the first three this winter on our westward advanture. No plans to visit Georgia in the near future, but the Carter Museum will be one of our first stops, for sure.

Our last couple of camping nights were spent in great sites, near water in quiet nearly-deserted campgrounds (Lake MacBride State Park IA, and Illini State Park, IL) A calm way to finish off a great vacation.wp-1477663321637.jpgwp-1477663371483.jpgA few last thoughts…wp-1477663262804.jpgDon’t forget to vote.wp-1477663306758.jpg



Still More South Dakota

Our trip to the Plains has been enlightening, to say the least. I have been amazed by the dazzling beauty of the land itself out here, and by the history lessons that present themselves every day.

As we headed toward the Badlands, we detoured to visit Wounded Knee, site of the 1890 massacre where 150-300 men, women, and children of the Lakota nation were killed by the 7th Cavalry.20161022_003021.jpg

Although it has been designated a National Historic Site, it’s a pretty grim site. The cemetery is overgrown, panhandlers selling trinkets and asking for money gather around the few visitors, and the small tribal museum/information center there has fallen into disrepair.wp-1477114136758.jpg Apparently, there is a Wounded Knee Museum in Wall, but we didn’t get to that town.The cemetery there is still in use today, and we saw many graves with the same family names.20161022_003132.jpg I left with the resolve to read some of the books I’ve gathered about the plight of Native Americans, and the history of our relations with them. Seems like it would be impossible to feel good about any of this.

We really didn’t have any expectations about the Badlands, other than we knew it was a National Park with some pretty unusual scenery. Unfortunately, we found the campground closed – we had to camp in the Group Campgroound.wp-1477114104098.jpg It was ok, but lacking in ambiance. Turned out to be a good spot for John to fly his kite.wp-1477113829882.jpg wp-1477113829884.jpgThe setting sun also lit the rocky landscape with a beautiful glow.wp-1477114054127.jpg Although we couldn’t see it, there was a huge prairie grass fire nearby along I-90 – about 10 miles long. We could smell the smoke (actually, we thought it was our neighbors smoking outside!). A few days later, we were amazed to see the blackened prairie, running for miles along the roadside.

I’m not sure how to describe the scenery here. wp-1477119153343.jpgwp-1477114006401.jpgThe Scenic Drive runs along the north edge of the Badlands, and divides it from the National Grasslands which it borders. The difference is very stark – check out this video. I stood in one spot, and simply pivoted about 270 degrees.

Canyon to Grassland – it’s eerie. We hiked and stopped at every scenic turnout or viewpoint along the way. Each offers a unique perspective. The grasslands here were home to many homesteaders, lured by the prospect of 160 acres of free land, which turned out to be too dry for farming, and too small to support any ranching. It’s uniquely beautiful, and terrifyingly desolate at the same time.

wp-1477113953525.jpgNext, we headed to Pierre (pronounced Peer), in our quest to visit State Capitols. Our campground was a small downtown park, right on the Missouri River. While lacking in amenities, it was a terrific location – we were less than a mile from the City center, making it easy to stroll, and leave the truck and Fireball at camp.

For a state with a small population, the State House was surprisingly elaborate.wp-1477113830186.jpg wp-1477138388328.jpgwp-1477138410511.jpgThey sure didn’t skimp on the use of Vermont marble in this building. Although they didn’t photograph well, I loved the gigantic marble drinking fountains, with their shiny brass fittings. So far, we have loved visiting state capitols – they are architectural gems. My favorites have been Utah, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts. We are resolved to visit our own capitol in Lansing – John has never been inside the building, and I haven’t been there for at least 30 years.

Who could visit South Dakota without seeing the Corn Palace in Mitchell?wp-1477139792058.jpgwp-1477138456834.jpg What a crazy idea – to build an arena, and decorate it with murals constructed of corn and native grasses. And, change the murals every year?This year’s theme is American music – many of the previous years had themes which centered around Native Americans and life on the Plains.wp-1477138456976.jpg Corn, in a dozen different hues, is cut vertically through the cob, then nailed or glues into the murals. It’s fun, creative, and a unique bit of American kitsch. I didn’t know that, at one time, there were more than 30 such buildings in US towns. Mitchell bills itself as the ‘only’ Corn Palace today.Apparently, the turnip-shaped structures on the roof were replaced this year with a metal structure that must have some kind of light show on it. Don’t know how anyone else feels, but I really don’t like the new look.  A bonus? Mitchell was also the home of George McGovern – one of my early political heroes. I remember proudly casting my first vote for US President for him.wp-1477139523307.jpgWe’re at the point where we’re on the road every day, heading home. It’s been a good trip, but we have house and yard stuff calling us home. Even Jezzy is starting to act a bit grumpy – she sure doesn’t care much for being cooped up in the truck so much.

We’ve got one more major sight to see, but should be home in three more days. I’m going to keep you in suspense as to what it might be….;-)

Custer State Park, Again

In yesterday’s post, I mentioned the new Visitor Center at Custer State Park, and the fantastic film there. The auditorium has a huge curved screen and an amazing sound system. A portion of the film is dedicated to the annual bison round-up, held each year in September.

I filmed part of it, and thought you might like to see it. Couldn’t get it uploaded until yesterday, but take a look…..

This is why you don’t want to mess with the bison along the roadway.  ;-)

Spectacular South Dakota

It’s been a spectacular week for the campshaws. Who knew that western South Dakota could be such a fantastic place to camp? It surely was off our radar.

We rolled through Mount Rushmore on a nearly perfect fall afternoon. Bright blue skies, fluttering yellow cottonwoods, and nearly zero traffic. wp-1476558098888.jpgI remember doing the Family Vacation drive-thru in this area when I was about 10 years old. We were probably here for about twenty minutes before jumping back into the station wagon and moving on. This time, John and I had the time and the interest to explore. First up was a Ranger talk at the Sculptor’s studio, where we viewed a 1:12 scale model, and learned a bit of the process to create the Monument.wp-1476558162238.jpgBriefly, it took 14 years, with about 40 men at a time (over 400 total) working to finish the job. Note that the model has a much larger view than the finished Monument. By the time the heads were completed, it was October 1941, and WWII was looming. Additional funding from Congress was needed to proceed, and it was determined that the best course of action was to declare the sculpture complete.

At the Visitor Center, the film and exhibits of the creation of Mount Rushmore are well worth whatever time you have to spend. It’s an amazing project. One amazing fact we learned was the the sculptor Borglum alone decided on the heads to be featured – the original project was planned to feature heroes of the West, but he felt that broader appeal was necessary to get people to come to remote South Dakota to visit. Can you imagine a project funded with federal money today ceding control to one individual? The Ranger at the Sculptors studio assured us that, no matter what we read on the internet, this project is COMPLETE. No additional heads will ever be added. Sorry, Ronald Regan.wp-1476558244839.jpgWe moved on from Mount Rushmore to Custer State Park, where we camped for two nights in one of the nicest State Parks we have ever visited. wp-1476558337443.jpgThe heart of Custer SP is its bison herd, which numbers in the hundreds. A brand new Visitor Center opened this year (which rivals many of the National Park Visitor Venters). The video there is superlative – a huge curved screen, gigantic sound, and amazing video quality put you right in the middle of the annual bison round-up. It’s spectacular.

wp-1476559295589.jpg One day was spent cycling around the Wildlife Loop Road, where we waited out a large bull bison hanging out near the road. After watching videos of how quickly these 2000 pound animals can move, there was no way we were going to try to cycle past him. We did decide not to pass by this trio of inquisitive wild donkeys, accosting the car ahead. I call this photo Jackass on Bicycle Ecounters Three Donkeys and Car. wp-1476883164446.jpgHonestly, the next day, when we were driving out, we got in a donkey jam. Everyone was out of their cars, feeding apples to the adorable crew. One woman was carrying her yappy dog, and standing outside where the donkeys were nipping at her. That’s crazy. They are pretty big. wp-1476559270461.jpgI prefer to look at them from the inside of the truck.wp-1476558739734.jpgThe famous Needles Highway was our route out of Custer State Park. Famous for its twisty path through the black granite “needles” of the Black Hills, it features two of the narrowest tunnels I ever hope to pass through. The Eye of the Needle was a mere 8’4″ wide.wp-1476640618952.jpg The second tunnel is a spacious 8’10” wide.

It’s a gorgeous drive, with several scenic turnoffs. Naturally, we stopped at them all. Small wonder that it takes us all day to drive 200 miles.wp-1476640329630.jpgNational Forest Campgrounds are overall our favorite places to camp. We found a beauty at Sheridan Lake, in the Black Hills National Forest.wp-1476559149774.jpg It’s a huge campground, but just one loop of 25 sites or so was open. An enormous site overlooking the lake was ours. Except for the wind rustling through the pines, there was little sound. We hiked, and John found time to use his new fishing pole for the first time (with the purchase of a $16 one-day license).wp-1476802699751.jpg No fish tacos for dinner though – he failed to even get a nibble on the delicious-looking lure at the end of the line. If you’re going this way, I would highly recommend this rustic campground – it’s a gem.

Our primary reason for choosing this campground near Hill City was that we wanted to visit the Crazy Horse Memorial. Sculptor Korczak Zielkowski had received a letter from Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear, asking him to come to the Black Hills and carve a mountain, stating “my fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know the red man has great heroes, also.” Work began on the gigantic Crazy Horse Memorial in 1948, and continues to this day.wp-1476558834671.jpg It’s hard to describe the scale of this project.

wp-1476558875960.jpgThe four heads of Mt. Rushmore would fit neatly into Crazy Horse’s flowing hair. Will it ever get completed? Hard to say. With no federal or state monies, the project is funded by donations only. Currently, just fourteen men are working on the mountain. The plans call for Crazy Horse’s hair and arm/hand to be completed in the next 15 years. Visit and contribute if you can – it’s an inspiring project, continued since the death of Korczak in 1982, by his wife and 5 of his ten children. The Visitor Center, with its 1:34 scale model and American Indian Museum is well worth a few hours of time. I hope to be around in 20 years to come back and check on the progress. As we left, the mountain was lit by a spectacular sunset.wp-1476559241986.jpgEver heard of Wind Cave National Park? Me, neither, although it’s the 7th National Park signed into existence by Teddy Roosevelt. Famous for the unique “boxwork” on the ceiling, it’s one of the largest caves in the world – featuring over 125 miles of cave in just a square mile. Interestingly, there are caves on at least three different levels, unconnected from top to bottom. We visited the VC, watched the movie, but elected not to go on a tour. It was late, the last tour of the day was about to start, and we were anxious to get to the campground and strike camp for the night. This crazy little campground had just a few sites, and our fee was just $4.50.20161019_074355.jpg It was like camping in a wind tunnel – man did it blow! But, we were treated to the bugleing of elk in the early morning hours (although we didn’t see them), and an amazing sunrise.wp-1476884700440.jpg Maybe we’ll revisit some day and actually tour the cave as well.

We’ve moved on to the Badlands, but that’s a story of its own. This post has dragged on long enough! We’ve covered very few miles in a week, but there is so much to explore in this corner of South Dakota. We are pointed toward Michigan, and begin our trek eastward in earnest today.

Mother Nature and the Devil

After much (extended) discussion, we finally agreed that our next destination should be Devil’s Tower National Monument, just over the border into Wyoming. Then, depending on the weather outlook, we would either forge on to Yellowstone, or turn east and head to the Black Hills, etc., and back toward home.

We eagerly scanned the horizon for the first glimpse of the Tower – when you first see it, it’s a remarkable sight. Standing tall, all alone in the landscape. All the Travel Gods were lined up on our side as we rolled into Belle Fourche Campground, at the base of the Tower.wp-1476277183760.jpg For a mere $6, we had a primo site, nestled among some glorious cottonwoods, with a commanding view of the Tower. Truly, it doesn’t get any better than this (except for a very stiff wind).

After docking the Fireball, we quickly grabbed a bottle of water and headed off to explore the Tower. The sun was shining, and temps were in the 70s – shorts and t-shirt weather. Up close, Devil’s Tower is even more impressive.

Its vertical columns are the largest of its type in the world – up to 600 feet high, and 5-7 feet wide. Voices float through the air, and you realize that climbers dot the sides. It’s crazily beautiful. We took a 1.5 mile trail around the base, then doubled back and strolled another couple of miles until we reached the path back to the campground.wp-1476277236873.jpg Truly, I don’t think we could have had a better afternoon.

Good thing. The next morning, I crawled out of bed, and wandered over to the bathroom. Getting back to the Fireball, I announced to John, “It’s gone. The Tower is gone!” A thick icy mist/fog had rolled in overnight, and totally obscured our magnificent view. What?wp-1476277255369.jpgIn freezing wind/rain/sleet, we packed up, our decision made. We would make the swing back east. Snow and wind pelted us along the road, so a short day seemed like a good plan. That pointed us to Deadwood, SD – an old mining town remade into a rambling, gambling vacation destination. Not many campground are open, so here we are at the Days of 76 Campground (a glorified parking lot). The plus side is a warm bathroom, and laundry facilities. And, we can walk to town to see the sights.

Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane are both buried at Mt Moraih Cemetery here, so we trudged up to check this out.

What a gorgeous cemetery – sections for the Chinese and Jews, and other groups who comprised Deadwood’s community in the mining days of the 1870s-80s. A Children’s section, and three Potters Fields reflect the harshness of life. It’s beautifully kept.20161012_064353.jpg Here’s Calamity Jane’s grave, right next to Wild Bill’s.wp-1476276273440.jpg The walking tour guide that comes with your $2 admission provides lots of colorful information on the cemetery’s residents, and the chatty guy in the ticket booth filled us in on whatever else he thought we needed to know about Deadwood (including the best spot to grab a beer).

So, off to Saloon #10 we went – the spot where Wild Bill was shot and killed by Jack McCall.wp-1476276022120.jpg Bill’s Death Chair is still enshrined there – in its own lighted compartment over the door.20161012_064100.jpgDeadwood was an interesting stop. Lots of old-timey stuff to gawk at, a beautifully restored courthouse, and interesting geography (it’s nestled into a steep valley).

It was cold and miserable walking around, and most of my photos aren’t worth posting, so you’ll have to use your imagination, or visit yourself.

The big snow predicted for last night didn’t materialize, and we are moving on today. In the next two days, temps are supposed to climb back into the 70s. The Fireball rolls on.