Sunday, July 29, 2012

Days 63-65 - Lower Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and home!

Mackinaw Bridge, MI
So, it is nearing the end of our trip.  I can tell everyone is getting to the point where they are just ready to be home.  Tempers are shorter, there is less interest in side trips, or doing anything other than getting to our next destination.
River town in Michigan

I had originally planned to spend the night two nights in St. Ignace and then drive straight down to Kentucky, but it would have been a really long driving day (10.5 hours).  So, we decided last week to break this down into two days and spend the night of Day 63 in Toledo, OH.  We also decided to changed our reservation at that time to a cabin instead of a tent like we were supposed to because we knew we were going to get in late.  So, when we arrived at St. Ignace very late (11 pm) and it had been raining I was very glad to have a cabin instead of a tent.  Thus ended Day 62.

Day 63 - When we woke up the next morning it was sprinkling which was a foreshadowing of what was to come.  We packed the car, got gas, and ate poptarts in the car.  We decided not to even go to Mackinac Island because we would have to pay for the ferry over there ($24 per person) and that didn't make sense if we were only going to spend a few hours there.  Plus we still had firewood left over from Yellowstone that we needed to burn before we got home.  So we thought we'd drive straight to Toledo so we could get there early enough to make a fire.

As soon as we got on the freeway it started to rain.  It rained fairly heavily for several hours and made driving miserable.  It was the torrential downpour type of rain you get with thunderstorms, although we saw very little lightening.  We stopped in West Branch, MI to eat lunch at Lumber Jack's Food and Spirits.  This restaurant was right next to an outlet mall, so we decided to stop by and look for a few things.  Moritz needed a new backpack for school and he was able to find one there.  He also needed some tennis shoes (trainers) for basketball, so we found a good shoestore and he got shoes there.  Daniel and Erin also found new school shoes that they liked.  Erin was especially happy because hers were slip-on because she hates tying shoes.  I bought a new rain jacket because I didn't have an actual rain coat (just a windbreaker).  I also got some new dress shirts for work.
Ohio Farm

After that stop we kept on driving on the interstate and it kept on raining.  When we got to our KOA stop for the night (really it was out in rural Luckey, OH) we were hoping that it would stop raining so we could make a campfire.  We ordered a pizza from a local place and had it delivered because we didn't want to go out in the rain.  It did stop raining around 10 pm and the kids made a big fire (Erin got it going with a single match).  It burned for several hours and then we let is burn itself out over night (we weren't too worried about it because it was a really good fire pit and the ground was completely saturated.  It wasn't a terrible KOA (not as bad as Mt. Rushmore), but it wasn't the best.  The showers had very little ability to be adjusted (if you touched the dial it went from cold to scalding instantly).

The next day we drove through Ohio toward Kentucky.  By this point we had passed 10,500 miles of driving (my estimate for the full trip).  The one stop I requested was Jungle Jim's in Fairfield, OH.  This is my absolutely favorite grocery store in the world.  Jungle Jim's has every type of exotic food you could wish.  They have cheese from just about every country in the world.  They even have a whole section devoted to olives and one aisle just for hot sauces (arranged alphabetically).  The rest of the store is divided by country.  It has noodles, sauces, jams, canned veggies and tea from all over the world.  David had fun because he got to get several new types of tea that he hadn't had before.  For example, he's had English breakfast tea and Irish breakfast tea, but at Jungle Jim's he got Scottish breakfast tea.  We had a lot of fun wandering around in there -- I just wish we could have had a way to get some of the cheese home (I love cheese!).

We arrived in Lexington around 7:30 pm and headed directly to Marikka's to eat dinner.  The food was great, as usual, and David got to get some of his favorite German beer.  After that we went to the Liquor Barn to shop for presents and replenish some of David's stock.  We finally checked into our hote and then crashed in bed around 11:00.

Our final day of the trip (Day 65 -- July 29) started out uneventfully.  We got up and got ready to attend church.  I was excited because we could attend Faith Lutheran in Lexington -- my old church in Lexington.  I don't know what it is about that church, but I always feel centered and balanced when I am at that church.  I rarely ever get that feeling at other churches.  I'm so happy if we can stop by there at least once a year so I can get my church "fix."  My former pastor wasn't there that day and they mentioned something about him retiring, so that is sad.  But, I don't think that feeling will disappear at that church, even if they hire another pastor.  At least I hope it doesn't disappear or I will have to look somewhere else for my fix.

After church we ate at our favorite fast-food Italian restaurant -- Fazoli's.  Jacksonville could sure use one of those!  Then we started driving on I-75 toward home.  Right before the Tennessee border we saw that there was road construction on the freeway and they suggested the alternate route of driving on US 25E.  We saw that Cumberland Gap National Historic Park was right off the road from that, so we decided to head that way and get another stamp in our passport books.  We stopped at the visitor's center and then drove up to Pinnacle Peak.  It was an overlook where you could see into Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia.  In fact, you park in the parking lot in Kentucky and then as you are walking on the path to the overlook you cross over into Virginia.  David was excited about this because it means that we have officially been in 25 states on our trip -- Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Virginia, Tennessee, and Georgia.  That is pretty impressive to me -- 25 of the "large" states in 65 days. A total of 11,600 miles driven ranging in elevation from 20 below sea level to 12,184 feet. 
Moritz -- in Kentucky & Virginia simultaneously
Sign is self-explanatory!

View from Pinnacle Peak

A lake in the distance
 We will be very excited to get back to Jacksonville!  Of course when we get back we will be jumping right into the thick of things.  Daniel starts band camp on Monday and Erin has to get an MRI on Monday.  Thursday is Erin's pre-operative appointment and we will learn all of the details of her scoliosis surgery on August 13.  Somewhere in between all of the band camp practices Daniel also has to audition for chair placement with EYO (Etowah Youth Orchestra -- Wind Ensemble).  We will also have to get Moritz registered for school.  I also am getting another epidural shot for my back on Friday.  So, I think we are going to be really busy for the rest of the month.  But, it will still be good to get back into our routine and help Daniel and Moritz get ready for school to start. 

That is pretty much it for the trip portion of our blog.  I might post some more on here over the rest of the month to let people know how the kids are doing (particularly Erin's surgery updates), but once we start school I won't have the time to do updates.  Thanks for following us through our many travels!

Moritz sleeping amidst all of the "stuff"

All the kids made it home in one piece and they are still smiling Amazing!

Day 60 -- The Spam Museum and St. Paul

David Burnham and wife Reem
Day 60 -- I did this post and had it up there, but somehow it disappeared! So, I'll try to remember what happened on Day 60.   The main thing I remember happening is that we went to the Spam Museum in Austin, MN on our way to St. Paul.  It was interesting to see the history of Hormel and how Spam played a role in WWII.  I also got some interesting shots of the kids trying to work on a Spam assembly line putting together cans of Spam.  Too funny!
Then we headed to St. Paul to see David's best friend from childhood and college -- David Burnham.  We had a wonderful dinner with them and they put us up for the night.  The next morning we saw a few St. Paul landmarks on our way out of town.  We saw the Minnesota State Capitol Building and the St. Paul Cathedral.  

Daniel and Moritz competing to can Spam

Old Dinty Moore Can
St. Paul Cathedral

St. Paul Capitol Building

Erin canning Spam
Old Hormel can



Thursday, July 26, 2012

Days 61 & 62 - Hayward, Wisconsin and the U.P.

Small pothole (bowling ball size)
Deep pothole (around 60 ft.)

Day 61 (July 25) - Today we left St. Paul, MN and drove to Hayward, WI to visit my cousin Kelly and family.  On our way we stopped at Interstate State Park (Interstate between Wisconsin and Minnesota).  This was an interesting park
Large pothole (about 6 ft across)
because it is right on the St. Croix River and it should be called "Pothole State Park" because it is full of glacial potholes.  This is where when the glaciers melted in the last ice age they drug some rocks under them which became tumbled around in one spot for a long time, so they formed really round rocks which tumbled around in the rock and formed these potholes with the smooth sides.  Some are very small (like bowling ball size) and others are huge.  We walked all over the park and saw all sorts of these potholes.  Then we drove on through Spooner and up to Hayward.

Street sign in Barronette, WI

On our way up we passed through a town called Barronette, WI.  David pulled over so we could take a picture of one of the street signs.  All of the street names were crazy fractions like this one:

Top row left to right:  Daniel, David, Aunt Diane, Cousin Kelly, Kelly's husband Rob, Cousin Matt, Uncle Andy; Bottom row:  Erin, Heidi, Rylie, Chase
Heidi and Kelly

I haven't seen Kelly and family since her wedding 8 years ago.  I was very happy to see their new house and see her kids.  Rylie - almost 7 and Chase - almost 4 were extremely cute and had fun playing with our kids.  For dinner Aunt Diane, Uncle Andy, and cousin Matt came over.  We had a typical Wisconsin dinner - grilled brats, onions, fruit salad, and potato salad.  It was a really good dinner and everyone enjoyed it.  The kids slept in the basement and David and I got Rylie's room.  Aunt Diane was a bit frazzled because she is preparing to host the Lumberjack World Championship in Hayward this coming weekend.  But, she brought all of the kids lumberjack t-shirts, so they really liked it (Moritz even wore his all the next day).
Kelly and Rob's house

The following morning we drove across the upper peninsula of Michigan, called the U.P. and the people who live there are known as the Yoopers.  We even stopped at a place called The Yooper Tourist Trap.  They had all sorts of funny stories about the Yoopers.  It was great!

Da Yoopers Tourist Trap, U.P. Michigan

As we continued to drive across the state we saw signs for pasties and we didn't know what that was (we thought it might be pasta mispelled).  So, when I had cell signal, I looked it up.  Turns out it is like a meat pie and that the Cornish miners brought the recipe over with them.  It has meat, potatoes, carrots, onions, and rutabagas in them.  So, we stopped at Muldune's Pasties in Munising, Michigan.  We even got an interesting Yooper magnet at the restaurant.  The pasty was pretty good!

Tourist Trip - Yooper humor
 After dinner we drove up to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore to look around and we got a picture of Munising Falls, but didn't get too much further in the park because it was already going to be 10:30 by the time we got all the way across the U.P. to St. Ignace to spend the night.

Michigan Lake

It is interesting to be this far north and right on the edge of Eastern time because it is 9:30 pm as I write this and it is just now dusk.  I'm guessing it won't be totally dark until 10 pm.
Munising Falls, MI

Typical Wisconsin farm

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Day 59 - The Badlands

The Badlands -- Valleys made via erosion
We did get up at 5:30, despite being kept up late by noisy neighbors (earplugs do occasionally come in handy). We loaded up the car and bungee-corded everything in so it wouldn't fall out. We made it to the dealer a little after 8 am and they agreed to try to work us in. So we sat in the waiting room (and I caught up on grading) for 3 hours. They finally had our van ready. The problem? Our lift gate needed a software update!  Moritz found it especially funny that we needed a software update for our trunk to work.

So, we got on the road about when we normally do -- 11 am.  We stopped for lunch almost immediately at Hardees where we ran into someone from Florida whose brother lived in Dothan.  After lunch we went to a Black Hills Gold store (aptly named "Gold Diggers") and I bought a pair of Black Hills Gold earrings to match my necklace.

Then we got on the interstate and drove to Wall, South Dakota.  What is Wall known for?  Wall Drug, of course.  They have signs for it all over the world.  My favorite picture I have is of the sign for Wall Drug outside of Centraal Station in Amsterdam.  It says something like 5397 miles to Wall Drug, Wall, South Dakota, USA.  So we had to go in -- if for no other reason than to say we'd been there.  Of course we got separated inside and it took a while to find each other, but we did get some new lip balm for David (he'd been looking for a particular type for a while and we hadn't been able to find it), plus we got a magnet for South Dakota and some doughnuts to snack on in the car. 

David in the Badlands
After leaving Wall Drug we headed south to the scenic drive through the Badlands.  It was exceptionally hot through there -- over 100 degrees.  The kids often didn't want to get out of the car, but David and I stopped at several of the overlooks.  They say it looks like the surface of the moon -- dusty and rocky.  The hills erode every time there is a major storm and they expect they will be entirely gone in 500,000 years. 

Hills in the Badlands
We also got some gifts at the gift store for my cousin Kelly's kids and David Burnham's kids.  Then we got back on the road and drove through the really boring part of South Dakota.  We stopped briefly in Mitchell, SD to see the Corn Palace.  Apparently there had been a rodeo there over the past week, so it was done up really nice.  Last time my mom and I went to the Corn Palace (in something like 1996), we saw people from Union, OR there.  Through Facebook I found out that someone from Union that I went to high school with (Holly James -- now Holly Loew) was at Mt. Rushmore the same day I was.  Too funny! 

 After the Corn Palace we drove to Sioux Falls, SD which is almost on the Minnesota border.  Although we got in really late, the people at that KOA were super nice and helpful getting us settled in.  We were staying in a cabin, so that was nice (it was 11 pm when we got in).  But, the air conditioning hadn't been on and it was still 85 degrees or so, even at 11 pm.  Despite it being quite warm in the cabin most of the night, I think everyone slept pretty well (better than in the tent).  We got up the following morning and checked out by 11 am.  The people in the KOA office said that we had fared better than some people from the Mt. Rushmore KOA during that big thunderstorm -- one family that came in said their tent was washed away by a flash flood during that storm.  Also, we read in the newspaper that several trailers on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation had been flattened by straight line wind.  Also, there were several new fires that had been started by the lightening.  So, I guess we were pretty lucky!

Today we head to David Burnham's house in St. Paul, then the next day to my cousin Kelly's house in Hayward, WI. 
The Badlands National Park

Monday, July 23, 2012

Days 57 to 58 - Devil's Tower, Crazy Horse, Rain, Mt. Rushmore, Jewel Cave, and Car Trouble

In Jewel Cave
Day 57 (July 21) - When we got to Devil's Tower last night we discovered we had another converted RV as our "Park Model" cabin.  This one, however, didn't have a bed in the loft.  So, Erin had to blow up an air mattress to put on the floor.  We also decided that we should do laundry while we are here because everyone was running out of clothes (especially Moritz who packed light).  We discovered that there were two laundry rooms with three washers/dryers at each of them.  So, we left Daniel and Moritz at one of them with one set of clothes and David and I sat at the other one (where I finally finished the first Yellowstone post!).  Erin was left at the "cabin" to take a shower.  Unfortunately, no one turned on the hot water for her, so she had a cold shower by herself.  But, at least we got everything washed and repacked!
Devil's Tower at Night

Devil's Tower (as seen from our campsite)

The next morning we woke up to view Devil's Tower which was literally on our doorstep.  We drove up to the base of the tower and saw people climbing up its sheer cliffs.  Apparently it is a popular climbing destination for people who want to climb the sheer basalt cliffs.

After we viewed Devil's Tower we drove the backroads of Wyoming over the South Dakota border into the Black Hills.  We first stopped by Jewel Cave to see if we could take a tour, but they were sold out for the day.  So, we bought tickets for the following afternoon's tour.

Crazy Horse Monument "in progress"
Next we drove to the Crazy Horse Monument and paid to go into the Indian Cultural Center.  We didn't really mean to pay to go in, but once you are in the lane, you can't really turn around.  So, Daniel and the kids went in and watched the movie about Crazy Horse.  I worked in the car for a bit and then walked around a bit, took a few pictures, and returned to the car because I couldn't find David.

Crazy Horse with Plaster Model in Foreground

"German" Restaurant and Hotel
Then we drove to our campsite at Mt. Rushmore KOA.  This campsite was interesting because it was combined with Palmer Gulch Resort which had a lodge and fancier cabins.  Our campsite was at the top of a hill between another campsite and a really fancy cabin with a bunch of people.  We set up the tent right before it started raining.  At first we thought it was going to be a passing thunderstorm like we had had at Colorado Springs.  So, we thought we would go to eat dinner why the storm was going by.  As we started driving toward Custer, we got very heavy rain and some huge hail (the weather alert said there was quarter-sized hail in the area).  We picked a "German" restaurant at the Bavarian Inn.  It was decorated like a German restaurant and had a few German dishes, but it also had a lot of non-German dishes.  We were excited to find some German food and to get out of the rain.  Of course they were busy (everyone comes in when it rains!), so we had to sit at two separate tables.  The whole while we ate it stormed with a lot of lightening and thunder.  Then, at the end of the meal, right after we had been served dessert, the owner came around and said that her credit card machine's modem had been hit by lightening and had been fried.  So, we had to pay in cash.  Boy were the patrons unhappy!  Most of us had planned on paying with a card and several didn't even have enough cash to cover their meal.  She wasn't very understanding about this -- she kept saying that we should have enough money to cover our meals.  Then the people said they did -- on the credit card.  Luckily we were able to use our "emergency" cash in our wallet to pay for our meal.

Tent before storms
KOA roads after first round of storms

KOA roads after first round of storms
By the time we left the storm had let up and we thought it was over.  When we got back to the KOA, we went into the office and asked if there was a covered area somewhere we could play games since our picnic table was wet and the tent was fairly wet (but it hadn't leaked)!  The lady said that we could use the pancake tent where they served breakfast.  It was this big white tent that fit five rows of plastic picnic tables.  As we drove to it, we could see where there had been a flash flood through the camp and about 6 inches of gravel had washed down from the hillside onto the lower paved road.  We sat in the very middle of the tent and started a game of Tripoli with matches as our tokens (I had found the box of wooden matches buried in the back, so we each could have 50 matches to play with -- yes, we did tell our kids to play with matches!!!).  As we started our game, it started to rain and storm again.  It continued to have torrential downpours, bright lightening that was very close, and huge thunderclaps for the next two hours.  David called it a gully-washer!  At about 11:00 it had slowed down a bit and Moritz really had to go to the bathroom, so we left the tent.  We thought the road up to the bathroom may not be passable because when we went by it after the first storm went through there were a bunch of KOA people trying to repair the road at that time because there was a 6 inch deep trench down the side of the road.  So, we aimed to just drive up to our campsite and walk down to the bathroom.  We made it up there by staying in a low gear and just keeping going over the large rocks and trenches in the road.  When we walked down to the bathroom, the sight was even worse than before -- there was a foot deep trench down the middle of the road and the gravel at the bottom of the hill was over a foot deep.  The KOA people were out in force trying to deal with flooding, washouts, and all of these other problems.  After washing up we headed up to our tent just as it started raining again.  There were a few puddles in the tent,
During the Hailstorm
but it stayed mostly dry (which was pretty amazing given how much water was coming down.  After we got in the tent it rained off and on most of the night, but stopped by the morning.  Of course by 7 am they were out with the road grader trying to make the roads passable again.

Mt Rushmore

We finally got up and went to shower before lunch and found that the showers really varied.  Daniel's and mine were fine, but everyone else had almost no water pressure.  After that we ate lunch and then went to Mt. Rushmore and took pictures and read the story of the making of the granite sculpture.
Didn't they do a good job mimicing the facial expressions?

Calcite Crystals on wall of Jewel Cave

At 2:30 we headed to Jewel Cave for our 4:00 tour.  We went down into the cave (the 2nd longest cave in the world) and saw the calcite crystals.  The walls were covered with them!  They had all of the usual cave formations in abundance, but also had tons of crystals, up to 6 inches thick on the walls.  It was really pretty!

place where crystals fell off of wall - looks a bit like the USA, minus WA and OR
After this we decided to go to dinner at a restaurant in Custer City.  As I was getting my jacket out of the trunk, it suddenly locked and wouldn't unlock (when it was open).  So, we couldn't get the door closed on the car.  So, we had to try to figure out what to do since the rear hatch wouldn't shut.  I managed to get a bungee cord around the door and have it anchored inside the door.  After much deliberation we decided that we would get up at 5:30 am and go to the Dodge dealer in Rapid City and try to get it fixed.