Saturday, June 29, 2013

Historic Muscatine, Iowa

Jim wanted to go on a beer run and I'd forgotten to get Grapenuts and floor cleaner when we got groceries yesterday.  So this afternoon we stopped at Aldi, a discount grocery store I'd never heard of even though their web site says they have one thousand stores in 31 states. It was clean, bright and had wide aisles -- but we didn't see anything we were shopping for and were out of there in five minutes.  Then we went to Walmart where we saw a big, shirtless guy with plumber pants whose photo I contemplated taking for the website "People of Walmart."  But that seemed cruel and he may have been able to beat me up if he caught me.  Finally we stopped at a brand new HyVee, a Midwestern chain based in Iowa -- and found our store.

Then we toured historic downtown Muscatine. The city feels southern to us instead of  Midwestern.  I keep thinking that's because it's a humid river town, but "humid" and "river" describe many a Midwestern location.  

Per Wikipedia, the name Muscatine is unusual in that it's not used by any other city in the U.S.  Wikipedia also says the town was formerly called Bloomington but changed its name to Muscatine because other Midwestern Bloomingtons caused a problem with mail delivery.  And, Wikipedia claims that before it was Bloomington, Muscatine was known as  "Casey's Woodpile." However, there's no attribution to that last statement so maybe someone is just jerking Wikipedia's chain.  Jim said he's guessing there is also no other town in the U.S. called "Casey's Woodpile."

Below are some shots of architectural details in the pretty town of Muscatine. Most photos also show the white/gray sky that dumped rain on us off and on all day.  

Flooding at Fairport State Park, Muscatine, Iowa

Muscatine's Fairport State Park has 42 campsites.  The widening Mississippi River has covered 8 of them and is closing in on one more at the moment.    The sites with larger numbers are the ones already -- or about to be -- in trouble.  Luckily for us we're in campsite #6 although we were originally scheduled for #41. 

About 45 minutes ago, Jim went kayaking in what was the campground.  Then he took off upstream on the Mississippi. A few photos are at the bottom of this post.

The sign peeking up from the water reads "No Parking Anytime." (Click on any of these photos to make them larger.)
Water is brushing the rear tires of this motorhome;  if the rig was hooked up to electricity, the power cord would be in the water.  When I took this photo the campers were putting away chairs and other outside items.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Muscatine, Iowa

We're in Muscatine, Iowa.  We camped here two years ago and liked it.  And  I think Jim wanted to come back so he could kayak in the Mississippi.

We're staying at Fairport State Park, a campground adjacent to the Mississippi River.  However, "adjacent" is not a strong enough word this year,  as the Mississippi flooded into the campground and covered some of the sites including the one we reserved.  I'd asked for a site close to the water and I certainly got that.

However, a gracious ranger found us another spot.  Last year we stayed at Fairport one night then moved to nearby Shady Creek Army Corp of Engineer Campground.  For this return trip we toyed with the idea of trying to get one of the first-come-first served spots at Shady Creek, because it's a beautiful campground.  But it's entirely closed due to high water.  So I'm glad we stuck with Fairport.

After settling in to our campsite, we drove to a place I found online called "Farm and Fleet" that promised clothing and groceries in addition to all the he things you'd think you'd find in a store with that name.  Mom, if you are reading this, it was like a gigantic version of Wellington's "Farm and Home" with a little more food, although the food choices were limited to soda, chips and candy. And there was no underwear, which is what I was looking for (it's either that or do the laundry).  They advertise clothes and they have no underwear?  Even Walgreens has underwear.  So we had to go to the shopping option of most smaller-sized cities:  Walmart.

Then we drove downtown to check out the water front area.  Flooded.  Then we drove across the Mississippi River into Illinois, just to cross the bridge.  That was one full river we saw down below.

Now we're back in the rig.  Jim's watching TV and I'm halfway into the novel "We are All Beside Ourselves" by Karen Joy Fowler, about a woman whose family raised her and a chimpanzee as sisters for the first few years of their lives. And because it's near the Fourth of July weekend and family vacation time, we can hear the kids outside racing up and down the park roads on their scooters.
Part of the campground at Muscatine's Fairport State Park on (and now partially in) the Mississippi River.
The signpost for the campsite we originally reserved at Fairport State Park.
A boy bikes through Muscatine's Waterfront Park.
A flower bed at Waterfront Park. According to what I've read, the flooding got bad just a few days ago and should peak Monday.
The Mississippi River as seen from downtown Muscatine.  Mark Twain lived in Muscatine in 1855 while working at the local newspaper.  

Thursday, June 27, 2013

We're not sure how we got here from there

Today was a kind of glichie day, but alls well that ends well.

We only have three more stops before we're at my Mom's in Ohio.  We didn't have reservations for tonight, but weren't worried because today's Thursday and I don't think we've ever had trouble getting into a park on a week day.  But we made reservations for June 28 and 29 (a Friday and Saturday) at a state campground in Muscatine. Since our last stop will be right before the Fourth of July holiday we booked campsites for those dates too.

Then this morning I got a voice mail from a ranger at our Mucatine stop, saying our site had been flooded by the Mississippi River, that our reservation had been cancelled and we'd get a refund. I started looking for something else.  But few parks let you reserve sites less than two days out, so that was one dilemma.  The other dilemma was that with the upcoming holiday many campground will be full starting tomorrow.

I made some calls before we left Randall State Park near Pickstown -- including one to the ranger who left the message, telling him we were on our way from Utah to Ohio and asked if he had suggestions as to other campgrounds.  I also had  Jim's iPad and hard copy camping guides on my lap so I could research places as Jim drove. We hadn't traveled too far when the Muscatine Ranger called me back and said they'd find a spot for us at the original campground.  It may be that they're putting us in a usually non reservable spot assigned on a first-come first-served bases.  Doesn't matter.  We're just grateful to have a place to stay.

Then driving to where we are tonight -- Brushy Creek State Park, not too far south of Fort Dodge, Iowa -- turned out to be more of a challenge than we are used to.  As we got within about 50 miles, the  freeway we were on was going in the right direction but was not on my GPS system.  Once we found the park, it was huge, the signage bad, and we could not find a comprehensive map on line or at the park that said "Hey, the campgrounds are thisaway."  Usually you pull into a park and within a few hundred yards there's a sign pointing out all that.  Not here.  We did find the park office, but no one was home, and there were no signs at the office explaining anything either.  But Jim has good instincts, figured it out, and we have a nice spot. All the other vehicles here are from Iowa.  Maybe there's a reason for that.
The grassy field behind our camping spot at Brushy Creek State Park in north central Iowa. The drive here from Pickstown, SD was beautiful   More rolling hills, crops, green grass, cattle and even Yankton, SD, the self-proclaimed "cow capital of South Dakota." 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Randall Creek Recreation Area, South Dakota

Yesterday we drove nearly 300 miles from Keystone, SD, to Randall Creek Recreation Area on the Missouri River near blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Pickstown, SD. The drive was gorgeous.  Rolling green hills, cattle, farms.  Very pastoral.  When we turned south from I-90 on to State Route 47 it got even more so.  We could easily spend a lot of time in South Dakota.  But we're not  going to (this time anyway) because we're on a mission to get east.

Rolling hills, lots of grass and Black Angus cattle as seen along I-90 in South Dakota.
We started seeing signs for “Wall Drug” near Mt. Rushmore and my brother suggested we go there (although I think he was joking). But as the signs got more numerous we thought “What the heck.”  Wall Drug (in the town of Wall, SD) was purchased in 1931 by Ted and Dorothy Hustead.  It was in the middle of nowhere, people were broke and the Husteads had several bad years.  Then Mrs. Hustead came up with the idea of offering free ice water.  Mr. Hustead put up signs on a nearby busy highway and the plan worked. Today Wall Drug also gives free donuts to Vietnam Vets and here Jim partakes. 
Jim in the middle of Wall Drug, a cavernous store where you can almost get lost wandering from the restaurant to the art area to the jewelry gallery to the book shop, to the clothing area, to the you-name-it.
One of the Wall shops sells cowboy boots.  The brown, pink and light blue pair near the middle top of the photo had a price tag of $577.98. 

A views on SD-47 after we turned south off of I-90.
Our campsite at Randall Creek Recreation Area with the Missouri River in the background.  The campground is large and there is a lot of room between the campsites.  There are a lot of cottonwood trees and cottonwood "fluff" is all over the place.
Today Jim took his kayak out on the Missouri River.  We had an agreed-upon place where I was going to pick him up with the car -- but the shore looked so different from out in the water that Jim overshot it and had to paddle upstream quite a ways.  He did a great job.  
In addition to beautiful grasslands around the park, there's a lot of marijuana growing wild.  So we had to get a pic. 

Monday, June 24, 2013

Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse and Deadwood, SD

Yesterday morning we left Cheyenne about 9 a.m. and drove 300 miles to Keystone, South Dakota -- the town nearest to Mt. Rushmore.  Then we set up our campsite, visited  Crazy Horse Memorial about 20 miles away and then visited Mt. Rushmore.   I don’t like doing that much in one day. And I wasn't  even driving, except to the monuments.  But other than this northern detour so Jim could see Mt. Rushmore, the aim of this leg of our travels is to get to Ohio as quickly as we can.  So we’ll be squeezing in a lot of miles plus the sites along the way.

Today we visited Deadwood, SD, about 50 miles north of Keystone.  Deadwood is known for Wild Bill Hickok (who lived there only one month before he was shot in the back and killed), the Gold Rush (when the population boomed to 5,000 people; today only about 1,200 people live in Deadwood full time) and for formerly being a rowdy mining town.  Today it’s a tourist/gambling village located in a very picturesque gulch.  Although using the words “picturesque” and “gulch” in the same sentence seem a little odd.

Mt. Rushmore’s George Washington, as seen from a viewpoint outside the park with help from my new telephoto lens.
The four  Mt. Rushmore guys as seen from the “Presidential walk," a path that takes you a little closer to the monument.  The monument was started in 1927 by Danish American sculptor Gutzon Borglum and his son, Lincoln Borglum.  The heads are 60 feet high and were completed in 1941.
A 1/34 sculpture of Lakota warrior Crazy Horse with the actual but still-in-progress monument in the background.   The story of this monument is amazing:  Korczak Ziolkowskiwho worked under Mt. Rushmore sculptor Borglum, was asked by the Lakota Indians to create a monument for Native American tribes.  While working on it, Ziolkowski married and had ten children who eventually helped their father.  Ziolkowski died in 1982, and his widow, seven of his kids, and now his grandchildren are still involved in the blasting and sculpting.  No federal funds are involved with the monument, which will be 641 feet high. When finished, the site is to include a Native American Educational/Cultural Center and a satellite campus of the University of South Dakota. 
Deadwood's County Courthouse.
Deadwood’s Adams museum.
Another cool building in Deadwood.  A large section of the city was destroyed by fire in 1879; new buildings were made of brick.

Our campsite at Kemp’s Kamp in Keystone, SD is very close to the road.  Despite that, it's very quiet.
Another view of our campsite in Keystone.  We have a beautiful view behind us and are right next to a stream.  About 11 years ago, Ash, Shad, Paul and I  took a trip to Mt. Rushmore in a rental RV.  We stayed at a campground on the same road as where Jim and I are right now.
Jim with Seth Bullock and Al Swearengen, two characters from a recent TV show called Deadwood and loosely based on the actual rough and tumble western city.  Bullock really existed and became sheriff after Wild Bill Hickok was killed.   The cardboard cutouts were at a restaurant called Deadwood Dicks, where we had a good lunch.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Wandering around Cheyenne

This morning and early afternoon we wandered around Cheyenne, a city of about 60,000 people with about 90,000 in the metro area.  Cheyenne was founded when the Union Pacific Railroad picked this area as the place to cross  Crow Creek, a tributary of the South Platte River.  It was named for the  Cheyenne Indian Nation. 

Today was "Super Day" in Cheyenne, a big event celebrating outdoor recreation at one of the city parks.  It was packed. We drove near the park looking for a parking place (I didn't want to have to walk too far because of my newly repaired knee) but had to give up.  Looked like fun, though, with lots of displays and activities. I think most of Cheyenne was there.

We did, however, successfully renew our brew pub tour with lunch at a Cheyenne pub called Shadows Brewing Company.   

In other exciting news, there was a tornado watch out for part of the evening, and a tornado warning for some nearby counties.  I told Jim before he goes to bed he has to have his shoes, a flash light, and Cooper's leash nearby.  Then if our iPhone tornado app goes off, we're making a run for the restroom, which is the nearest sturdy-looking building.  It's about 9 p.m. right now, though, and it seems calmer.
The Wyoming State Capitol.  In front is a statue of Esther Hobert Morris, a proponent of 1869 legislation that made Wyoming the first territory or state where women could vote.  I thought Utah was the first, but Wikipedia backs up the plaque on the statue.   Utah women got he vote in 1870; that right was later rescinded in some sort of polygamy-related brouhaha, then returned.)
Tourists at the old train depot and now visitors center, taking photos at one  the oversized and decorated cowboy boots seen around the city.
A downtown Cheyenne ranch wear store on the corner of Capitol Avenue and 15th Street.  
Looking down 15th Street.
There's a shootout six days a week not far from the visitors center.  Here one of the shooters (I think, because we didn't stay for the actual shootin' part) talks with a kid from the audience who is either Jerry Mather's grandson or a Beaver doppelganger.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Salt Lake to Little America to Cheyenne

Yesterday we finished loading our rig in preparation for our trip east, then headed to Flying J Truck Stop to top off our propane and weigh the rig.  We wanted to make sure the rig weighed less than the max of 14050 pounds.  It was 12840.  So we hooked up the tow car and were headed east on I-80 by 2:30 p.m.

Our rig's refrigerator runs on propane unless we're using our generator or an electric hook up.  Since there's a possibility of an explosion if the fridge's pilot light comes on near a gas pump, we keep the fridge off at gas stations and had it off when we pulled in to Flying J.  Once on the road, I turned on the fridge. The “check light"  came on, which means there's a problem.  I tried twice more.  Still got the check light.

We stopped at a rest area just past Park City and ran the generator, which usually resolves any fridge problems.  But as soon as the generator went off, the check light came back on. 

Then Jim had a thought:  Is the propane even turned on?  Uh .... no.  At the next rest area we stopped again and turned on the propane.  Problem solved. Hey, we can't think of everything. 

Since we got a late start we drove just 140 miles for a one-night stop at Little America, Wyoming, a huge truck stop where RVs can stay for free and there’s always a line for their 50-cent ice cream cones.  

Our rig and tow car (with kayaks on top) nestled among the semis at Flying J.
Last night's camping spot at Little America, Wyoming, about 75 miles east of the Utah/Wyoming border. It was once the world's largest gas station.
This morning we left Little America at 9 a.m. and drove 300 miles east to the FE Warren Air Force Base Fam Camp, just barely northwest of downtown Cheyenne.  We got one of the Fam Camp's 40 spots with full hook ups.  They also have 166 spots for dry camping, so there's lots of room here.

Warren Air Force Base is one of three strategic missile bases in the United States.  It's home to the 90th Missile Wing which operates ICBM missiles. It's also the oldest continuously active Air Force base in the country and was established in 1867. 

After we got set up in our spot, and Jim listened to the Oregon State Beavers baseball game (unfortunately they lost, but they were playing in the College World Series and seeded number 3) we took a walk on a nearby nature trail and explored the base.
Jim near the Warren Air Force Base nature trail.  That's an antelope  skeleton in the foreground.  There are antelope (live ones) all over the place here.

This is one of the base officer houses.   
The base has a huge grassy field with a running/walking track ringed with base homes and admin buildings.
This is Lake Pearson, a small lake on the base.  It would have been great for kayaking, but it's very windy tonight.  In fact, there were tornado warnings for the county just north of Cheyenne and also for the nearby Nebraska panhandle.