Into the West…

Welcome, Wyoming!

Welcome, Wyoming!

Much of the drive across Wyoming was flat flat flat, with the glorious presence of vast cloud banks.  I’m reading “Open Road” by Phil Patton, and he says “At 65 miles an hour, experts say, the driver sees five times as much sky as at 45.  Roads are drunk with the principles of perspective.”  So far, so true!  We’re not home-hunting in Wyoming, but headed west for the Grand Tetons and more camping, so we we’re testing the 65 mph views (or better, as speed limits here hover around 75 mph and so the perspectives must be that much better!).

About the Clouds...

About the Clouds…

Though we’re on a local food/farm to table/craft-brewing oriented journey, we’re learning that “local” doesn’t necessarily equate to “good,” though it more than often does mean quirky or quaint, and usually “nice.”  The Broken Wheel Truckstop and Restaurant was a refueling station, with a basic truckers’ breakfast (we passed up on the steak and eggs) and kind waitresses who kept pouring the coffee.

Breakfast Spot

Breakfast Spot

On the other hand, sometimes local means both kind people with a mission and really really good coffee.  Being “West” also means they get to have some real fun with their branding.  I liked the cowboy-themed packaging of the Brown Sugar Coffee Roastery in Riverton, Wyoming (http://brownsugarcoffeeroastery.com/)  and their coffees are FairTrade USA certified too!  NOTE:  if you’re curious about why I care about Fair Trade, check out :  http://fairtradeusa.org/  for more about what Fair Trade means to the small growers and farmers around the world.  Also, my earlier blog about our visit to the Fair Trade/organic farmers in India might be of interest!

Howdy, Pardner!

Howdy, Pardner!

Primed by Brown Sugar’s coffee, and hours and hours of driving later, we gained our first view of our home (tent) for the next two nights in Grand Teton National Park.  And found there was a little more snow than we’d planned on!

The Grand Tetons

The Grand Tetons

A Little Snow...

A Little Snow…

Here’s where words, at least mine, can’t measure up.  Our hike around Jenny Lake…

And the Hikes!

And the Hikes!

And then, we were off to Boise, Idaho and a wonderful weekend of wedding celebration activities!  Was it the wedding and reuniting with friends, the farmers’ market and wonderful museum that gave us pause, and had us house-hunting?  More on this, next time…

Home, Home, (Tent) on the Range…

We haven’t yet found even one spot to add to our “settle down wish list,” but we’ve enjoyed plenty of places that are perfect for exploring!  We left Yankton heading northwest across South Dakota, at first following the Missouri River, and Lewis & Clark’s journey.  Hours and hours (about 4, to be more precise) we were thrilled when the formidable peaks of Badlands National Park came into view.  We had a great hike that stretched the legs and let us clamber among the rocks and prairie grass as we learned about the geological forces that created the Badlands.  Our first buffalo sighting of the trip, too! And then, it was on to Rapid City, for an overnight stay before our first camping foray.

Badlands Ahead

Badlands Ahead

Wall Drug is a famous stop in South Dakota, with dozens of signs posted along the high way for miles and miles before you actually arrive.  I was fully prepped for the 5 cent coffee by the time we arrived (and for those of you who are following my Instagram posts – the doughnut!) Wall Drug is a funky huge maze of a store, and worth a visit if you are anywhere in the area.

Wall Drug's A'Comin!

Wall Drug’s A’Comin!

Lassos at Wall Drug

Lassos at Wall Drug

A short overnight stay in Rapid City was the first real exploration of a possible future home…yep, but I think it was just a brief fling!  Art Alley (check out the winsome blue baby at the far end of the alley) was an unexpected and fascinating discovery as we walked to Firehouse Brewery for dinner.  There are also life-size sculptures of the U.S. Presidents scattered around the city for discovery.

Art Alley Rapid City, SD

Art Alley Rapid City, SD

Mt. Rushmore

Mt. Rushmore

We passed Mt. Rushmore as we drove towards Custer State Park, and it was a “rush” to see the massive sculpted heads hovering over the highway.  Nope, didn’t stop by to get a closer look, truthfully – because we were so taken aback by the $11.00 parking fee that would go to a private parking concession…really?

From Mt. Rushmore we drove into Custer State Park via the Harney Peaks entrance, to camp and do a little hiking.  It is beautiful – Harney Peak is South Dakota’s highest point at 7200’, and much of the rest of the park is above 5000’.  The jagged, formidable looking peaks stretched to a beautiful cloud-filled sky, and we set up our tent at Central Lake for the next two nights, at 4600’.   Custer State Park is home to thousands of free-range buffalo, and though it’s nothing like the herds that roamed the prairies in millions in the 1800’s, the sight of these huge, magnificent animals was awe-inspiring.  And it’s calving season!

Harney Peak Area, Custer State Park

Harney Peak Area, Custer State Park

Ponderosa Pine Bark

Ponderosa Pine Bark

 

Beauty on the Trail

Beauty on the Trail

Stand Off!

Stand Off!

Buffalo weren’t the only “wildlife” we saw, as we left the park – the donkeys? mules?  were pretty funny.   Leaving South Dakota, we stopped in Custer at the Bitter Esters Brewhouse, and enjoyed, really really enjoyed, the Spent Grain Crust Pizza (check out my Yelp review for more), before heading on the long, straight road to Douglas, Wyoming…more on this, next time.

Road West with Clouds

Road West with Clouds

 

 

Along the Lewis & Clark Trail…

The only place we’ve stayed more than one night so far is back in Lexington, Virginia, and that’s not ideal – two nights in one place is better than one!  But, we’re getting better at taking the minimum amount of “stuff” into each hotel room (no camping yet!) to make a quick start in the morning.  We’d be taking this early part of the journey much slower, but have a “Boise by May 29” goal, and so are really making tracks across country;  still finding time to meander and pause at unanticipated  roadside treasures…mostly natural food stores, coffee shops, singular restaurants, brew pubs!

From Kansas City, the Corps of Discovery made its arduous way upstream – by poling or pulling (known as cordelling) the 55’ keelboat.  It took them a month to reach a spot near Council Bluffs, Iowa.  We drove to and past Council Bluffs from St. Charles in a day.

Through Iowa

Through Iowa

Council Bluffs was named for the Expedition’s first encounter with Native Americans.  We stopped at a lovely overlook on a bluff above the Missouri, imagining the men struggling against the current, and camping just across the river from where we sat.

We made a quick stop in Sioux City, Iowa, seeking coffee and internet access –two important resources we try to consult every other day or so.  We don’t have advance reservations from here on, and so rely on Yelp, TripAdvisor and Priceline, which led us this day to charming Yankton, South Dakota. After dinner at “El Tapatio,” we headed to another important resource:  Walmart – to provision for camping…and where the magazine selection was most interesting.

Yankton Dinner

Yankton Dinner

Magazines

Before striking out westward to Rapid City, South Dakota, we walked across Yankton’s restored Meridian Bridge to Nebraska.

Meridian Bridge, Yankton, SD

Meridian Bridge, Yankton, SD

 

Hello South Dakota!

Hello South Dakota!

The scenery has been beautiful in ever changing ways, and though we won’t choose to live in the “flatlands,” there is something awesome about the Great Plains, the rolling hills and wide skies – how much of it Woodie Guthrie had seen when he composed This Land is Your Land, I’m not sure, but the landscape we’re passing through has kept me mindful of the power of the land and its meaning – especially as we celebrate, and remember, on Memorial Day.

 

2,000 Miles, & “Across the Wide Missouri!”

Travelling miles and miles in a car with a companion who enjoys trivia and musical tidbits just as much as I do is great fun – we’re struck every once in a while by something that starts us humming or singing a song that perfectly fits where we are…such as when we crossed the Missouri River, and “Shenandoah” came to mind.  Then there was discovering Daniel Boone’s last home (in a beautiful stretch of land between St. Louis and Jefferson City – he lived within miles of where Lewis & Clark travelled, and there is no record that they ever met), and remembering “he was a man, he was a biiiiig man, with an eye like an eagle and a…..(I’ll bet you can fill in the rest!)  “Kansas City, Kansas City, here I come,” and of course, even though we were in a car:

As I was walking that ribbon of highway,
I saw above me that endless skyway:
I saw below me that golden valley:
This land was made for you and me.

Here’s a link to a wonderful YouTube video of Pete Seeger (at 90!) and Bruce Springsteen at the Lincoln Memorial singing “This Land is Your Land” – if you’ve never heard or seen Pete Seeger, who died earlier this year, please watch!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HE4H0k8TDgw&feature=kp

Our Ribbon of Highway

Our Ribbon of Highway

This map is from the Museum of the Westward Expansion at the St. Louis Arch, and the red line depicting the Lewis & Clark Trail starts in the east in St. Louis, where we really start to parallel the Trail and follow it for a couple of days. We’ll pick it up again later in the trip, after a long detour to Idaho and British Columbia.  The “Voyage of Discovery,” commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson was ambitious and extraordinarily successful – they started out in May 1802.  Lewis & Clark returned after nearly three years of exploration having lost only one member of the Corps of Discovery, and with massive amounts of information about the vastly expanded country.  Having read Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose years ago was great preparation for exploring some of the areas in which the Corps of Discovery passed.

Driving through these regions and realizing just what those men and Sacajawea had to endure is my outdoor classroom – truly “learning it all, over again!” (So fitting! That’s the subtitle of my blog:  Read. Travel. Learn it all, over again!)  We followed the Missouri north and westward, to visit tiny St. Charles, where the journey began.  (Some would argue with reason, that the journey began far to the east, where Meriwether Lewis had the keelboat made in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but it wasn’t until St. Charles that the two leaders finally joined forces and the expedition began.

The Lewis & Clark Trail

The Lewis & Clark Trail

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Organized!

Organized!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Besides generally following the Lewis & Clark Trail, how else are we managing on this trip?  By perusing our well-worn edition of “RoadFood,” which has traversed the country now at least three times!  It shows just how enduring those classic old-timey restaurants and diners are when our 2005 edition still points us to great spots for a bite to eat.  We’ve written something by the listing for each of the many places we’ve stopped, and I love reading notes from other years…I write in my books – you might want to try it!  Yep, whether a food guide, a cook book, travel guide, poetry, fiction or history, my books are lined with marginalia – books which someone, sometime, will pick up at a used book sale, and puzzle over, perhaps wondering who wrote the sentences, exclamation marks, and sometimes ever-so slightly critical words scribbled in the margins.

The Road Food Book

The Road Food Book

From St. Charles we roughly followed the Missouri and the Corps of Discovery’s route to Jefferson City, where The RoadFood Book directed us to Central Dairy for delicious, and cheap ($2 for an overflowing pint of scoops)ice cream break – the best deal of the trip so far.  Then, as CW so delicately puts it, we “beat cheeks” to Kansas City MO. (This phrase apparently refers to a horse’s flanks – contrary to what you may be thinking…)

Kansa City was a great stop, where I was delighted to find “The Roasterie,” (http://www.theroasterie.com/) an amazing coffee roaster/wholesaler/retailer with an airplane and flight theme (check it out!) whilst CW enjoyed a private tour with the Lead Brewer at “Boulevard,” (www.boulevard.com) a major craft brewer – they were within blocks of each other, and we cheerfully split up for a couple of hours to each enjoy our own “brews.”  That’s another good tip for long term, close quarters travel – make sure to build in time to pursue independent activities!

The Roasterie

The Roasterie

Boulevard Brewery

Boulevard Brewery

So far, no one place has called out to us as a potential landing spot, though some are full of history and a vibrant culture; in fact, crossing Missouri, I had glimpsed a sign for Rosebud, MO, and I longed for a moment, to live in a place called “Rosebud.”

 

 

4 Big Rivers, 5 Days, 7 States, and 1000 Miles…

We’ve crossed the Delaware, Susquehanna, Potomac, and Ohio rivers in the past 5 days, and look forward to sunny days and more leisure to enjoy the ones yet to come (The Missouri! The Mississippi! The Columbia!) One highlight of the trip so far was the memorial service in the chapel at the Virginia Military Institute, honoring the ten young cadets who died in the Battle of New Market in May 1864.

Soft, lilting southern accents permeate the air – the wait staff at restaurants, in particular, sound gracious and kind, and even if the service is a bit slow from time to time, it feels simply good to just sit and wait, talking about the day, the drive, the scenery, the breweries!

I’ve already lost count – there was Star Hill in Crozet, Blue Mountain Brewery in the heart of the Blue Ridge mountains, Devil’s Backbone and Blue Lab in Lexington, VA….the Charleston Brewery in West Virginia…and more.

Virginia’s many historic markers included one marking the location of Meriwether Lewis’ birthplace – this gave me a thrill (yes, it did!), because we’re going to be driving in large part along the Lewis & Clark trail once we arrive in St. Louis.

Meriwether Lewis

Meriwether Lewis

Our drives haven’t started early yet, so there’s been room for morning exercise either at the hotels (terrible equipment!) or running.  Rest stops include some serious stretching of legs, hips, shoulders, back – otherwise, yikes!

I’m reviewing many of the places we’re eating on www.yelp.com – so you can look up Pronto and The Red Hen in Lexington, and others I’ll share as we go along.  The Red Hen was an extraordinary, tiny restaurant serving meals prepared from daily ingredients sourced locally – truly fine dining, and not something we can afford to repeat every day!

We left Lexington on Friday and drove to Charleston, West Virginia, along miles and miles of absolutely beautiful, winding S-curves, up and down roads across the Blue Ridge, and through West Virginia – I now understand why it’s called the “Mountain State” – it feels like the entire state is series of tiny towns in narrow valleys set between lush green hills.  From Charleston we made it to Lexington, Kentucky, site of one of Mary Todd Lincoln’s childhood homes.

Winsome Sculpture

Winsome Sculpture

This Lexington had no VMI, but does have Henry Clay’s home and law office, a thriving bourbon/craft brewing industry, and a busy Saturday morning farm market which I explored.  I didn’t get a doughnut today – but Cathy of Cedar Ridge Farm had a delicious sour cream cinnamon roll that was superb with the pourover coffee from MagicBeans Coffee (www.magicbeanscoffee.com.)  The growing season has already brought tomatoes, gorgeous peaches, blueberries, strawberries and various greens to the market.  The market is set up under a glass pavilion just outside the old Lexington Courthouse, parking was easy, and dogs were abundant!

Farm Market Peaches

Farm Market Peaches

On to Columbus, Indiana, home of some extraordinary public buildings designed by world-renowned architects…