We're so glad you joined us!

Here we are – kids, dogs and all! Thanks for visiting our page! We're hoping that you will enjoy hearing about our travels and experiences as a family. We intend for this blog to share more than just travel journals, but also insights and lessons learned during our daily adventures. Please share your comments and come back often! * update * as of August 2010, we finished our journey, so new entries to this site will be rare. Linda's starting a new personal blog here. Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Mt. Rushmore

After arriving near Rapid City, SD, the boys both caught colds and the weather became very windy and chilly for a couple of days. Fortunately, the weather and the boys' colds improved for a beautiful day at this national landmark.

The massive sculpture is so famous and most definitely squarely in the middle of a well beaten path as travel adventures go. We were pleased to have followed in the footsteps of so many visitors when we reviewed the exhibits and short trail in front of the mountain.

Just one aside note: although we have an 'America the Beautiful' National Parks annual pass, this provides no benefit at this monument. Admission to the monument is free; HOWEVER, the parking fee is $10. There is no other visible place to park other than the rather large parking garage complex. The parking pass is good for the remainder of the calendar year, so you can return as much as you like after purchasing the pass. The garage staff makes careful note of your license plate, so there's no 'cheating' to transfer the parking pass to anyone else!

Back to the monument itself and a few interesting facts from the history and construction:

  • the sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, was 58 yrs old when the project began

  • the project took over twice as long and cost almost twice as much as originally estimated (14 years and a little less than $1 million)

  • the project stopped short of the complete design due to the death of the sculptor (his son worked a bit more, but enthusiasm and funding waned)

The boys are standing with the artist's last working model, 1/12 scale of the mountain work (each inch on the model scales to a full foot on the mountain).

Our favorite photo taken from the short trail toward the mountain includes a bit of fall color.

We couldn't resist having the boys try to pose stoically with the presidents. Here you see six home educated Republicans!

As the trail returns to the main visitor's center, a display of authentic Indian tepees is available for perusal. The ranger explained that Lakota, Nakota and Dakota Indian tribes were all actually using dialectic variations of the same word.

The next day we had a good morning of studies and took the afternoon to tour around the Black Hills countryside in search of some fall colors and see if we could get a glimpse of Crazy Horse. While there were mostly pine trees, the hills were beautiful and there was a splash of color now and then.

A little south and west of the Mount Rushmore we saw a large hill with a lot of pieces missing and something of a face at the top. The scale is enormous. The concept is great with Crazy Horse riding into the wind, pointing forward and his long hair waving behind. Looking at that face peeking out of the raw mountain, we thought they had a long way to go. Cory looked at all that work and announced, "I'm hungry, really I am". Rather than explore the mountain, we drove on south to Custer. We viewed the local fare, but in the end, we went with the safe pick and Cory's favorite Subway.

After supper, we took the scenic route through Custer State Park to get back to Mount Rushmore for the evening lighting of the monument and it was well worth the trip.

We saw these two residents grazing along the bike path and felt happy that we didn't meet them on the bikes. There were a few more bison and a couple of pronghorns. We saw dozens of white tail and mule deer either next to or in the road. Three large groups of wild turkeys crossed our path and we tried to give them a gobble, but all we got back was a dirty look as if to say "tourists".

The road itself was a joyful ride for an old highway engineer. Filled with 15 mph curves and a bunch of artistic timber bridges some of which curved and looped under themselves. There were also several 12 foot wide one lane tunnels that had a little sign to the right that said, "Sound horn as you enter tunnel". Fortunately, we didn't meet anyone from the other direction and we didn't take the road that had only 8 foot wide tunnels!

We arrived in good time for the evening program and joined a small crowd of folks in the seating area. The night was beautifully clear and the stars were spectacular overhead as we waited.
A ranger led a terrific program and introduced a short Discovery video that highlighted the lives of the Mt. Rushmore presidents.

As the film concluded, the lights gradually brightened the faces above the stage area.

A few moments later, the ranger asked all veterans and active military to join her on stage. The audience enthusiastically provided a standing ovation for them. Several worked with the ranger to take down the flag after we all sang the national anthem.

Now, the evening was already a wonderful evening, but we had one huge surprise! Before the program, we thought we recognized a young man sprinting up the auditorium steps. After the program, we were able to confirm that the young man was a friend from our old stomping grounds in Corpus Christi - and there was another friend along with him! Tim and Austin have been selected as interns for a national communications conference. They tour the country as part of a team and lead thousands of young people in seminars with the organization Communicators for Christ. The funny thing was, they were only at Mt. Rushmore by happenstance as their bus had broken down near Rapid City. While awaiting repairs, the tour sponsors had treated the team to a trip to the mountain - quite coincidentally on the same night we chose to attend! We were thrilled to see them, thrilled to know of their selection and thrilled with the unexpected surprise!

We returned to the RV park and rose to see this amazing sunrise the next morning! Then, we watched the weather turn windy, rainy and cold - as had been forecast. With winds gusting up to 60 mph, we were glad to have the flexibility to wait for better traveling weather!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Nebraska and eastern South Dakota

We caught the eastern edge of Nebraska as we hustled back to the north and west - our sights set on Mt. Rushmore. We stopped for an overnight stay near Lincoln and then continued to Mitchell, SD - just west of Sioux Falls. The RV park shared an indoor pool and water slide with a local motel and the boys thoroughly enjoyed the chance to swim! We took one side trip to see the Corn Palace. Built to demonstrate the agricultural benefits of South Dakota, the structure houses an arena and boasts large murals made of corn cobs on the exterior. The murals are changed each year to carry out a new theme. We just caught the end of 'Destinations' and were so pleased! We again forgot our camera, but Cory had his. You'll have to catch the photos of the infamous Corn Palace through his blog!

After a long drive across the state to Black Hawk, just west of Rapid City, we settled in for a few days to take in the sights. We are a bit delayed in sight seeing as the boys both have colds (too much swimming?), so we're busying about some routine maintenance, grocery and laundry chores while we wait for improvements. The weather also has brought high winds that are quite COLD, so we will set out for the sights when it warms up - hopefully tomorrow!

Missouri - Family and Friend Visits and FALL Arrives

We scooted down through Iowa with an overnight stop near Des Moines, headed for northwestern Missouri. Craig's family roots are in the area and we were blessed to catch a visit with several of the cousins from his dad's side of the family. Judy, Joyce and Doug met us with their families for lunch. We were very amiss in forgetting our camera, so we have no photos of the gathering! Judy took a picture of us, but we can't figure out how to transfer it from email to the blog. We're hoping to return through the area again in the spring and hopefully will have our act together to capture some photos of family next go 'round!

Craig was also able to catch up with his good friend, Brent and we visited the cemetery where Craig's mom, dad and grandparents were buried.

We also took a day trip to Hannibal, most famous as the birthplace of Samuel Clemens. His boyhood home and his father's office are preserved, as well as Becky Thatcher's house and Tom Sawyer's white picket fence. Mark Twain's name is everywhere and statues of the author and some of his characters are dotted around the community along the Mississippi River. After a lunch at a local diner, the boys ordered dessert. What's more fitting than Mississippi Mud Pie? Unfortunately, the dessert was quickly demolished and this is all we have to show you....

We also introduced the boys to Hannibal-LaGrange Baptist College, where Craig attended classes for a few semesters before attaining his degree from U of M at Rolla.

We trekked further south to Columbia and paid a visit to the main University of Missouri campus. We also shopped around to finally acquire a keyboard for our musical pursuits. Having music in the house again is well worth the investment!

We took another day trip to the Lake of the Ozarks, but unfortunately chose a very stormy day! A cold front blew through and we took refuge at a McDonald's to let the worst of the storm pass before continuing the drive back to the RV park.

Mostly, we enjoyed the very seasonal weather and more glimpses of trees turning bright golds and reds. Now, off to the northwest to capture a glimpse of Mt. Rushmore before the weather turns too cold and messy!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Twin City Time

We moved to an RV park in Woodbury, on the east side of St. Paul for a busy week in the Twin Cities. The first stop was at the Mall of America, but sadly we forgot our camera again! We returned later in the week, so we post a photo of the main attraction - a series of high ropes to climb in the amusement area in the center of the mall. Five stories high, both boys climbed to the top and bravely walked the 'plank' to sound the foghorn. We picked up a few essential items while there during the busy Labor Day weekend shopping and left the mall as everything was closing down at 9:30 pm!

The next trip was to see Como Park and go to the zoo. This was on Labor Day and the park was very busy with Minnesotans enjoying a last outing before school schedules began the next day. The Minnesota State Fair was also in full swing on it's last day so people were parking everywhere in the park and walking over. We drove around the large park, enjoying the sights but finding no parking. We nixed that plan and drove over to downtown Minneapolis.

Somewhat deserted on the holiday, we were actually happy to be some of the few browsers and shoppers. Our oldest son has fond memories of visiting the city a few years ago. The architecture of many of the buildings and the skyscrapers still held their fascination for him. He enjoyed showing his little brother the ropes of how to get around the downtown area on the skywalks. To the left of the boys on street level is the sculpture of Mary Tyler Moore preparing to toss her beret into the sky.

We happened across a 'Great Clips' salon that had no waiting, so the guys all got trimmed up! We browsed around the area and took in the sights until things began shutting down around 5 pm, so we took our tired feet back to the truck and the camper.
The next outing was the Science Museum in downtown St. Paul. We arrived early and stayed most of the day with five stories to explore. First was a film on the exploration of the sunken Titanic on an I-max screen. The film featured Russian scientists exploring in specially designed submarines that descended 2 1/2 miles in the icy seas to film the two massive pieces of the sunken vessel and retrieve specimens and artifacts.
We then descended a musical flight of stairs to tour the special exhibit hall. The boys took a couple of extra trips on the flight of stairs to create their own musical rhythms and scales.

Photos are not allowed in this special exhibit. Photos of the Titanic's construction and a model of the phenomenal ship are the centerpieces of the first area. The exhibit presented a detailed history of the period and chronicled life on the great ship as you viewed items salvaged from deep water resting place. They also did a wonderful job of telling many of the personal stories of those traveling on the ship from all walks of life. Each visitor was given a card that told the story of one of the passengers. You got to know your person and imagined their experiences on the voyage and see at the end whether they were among the survivors. It was a terrific enrichment for the boys to understand and appreciate this period of history.

The museum building was awesome architecture located along a winding section of the majestic Mississippi river. Among the many river exhibits was one that showed the beginning headwaters that we had just walked across earlier in month.

The boys were a little more interested in the interactive exhibits such as the barge pilot simulator or the champion fish lift.

The health and body exibiits held our attention for quite a while. One display got a little too interactive for Will as he opened a door over the face of a little girl's picture and she sneezed on him!

The science museum was an excellent investment for fun and enrichment to our traveling home education.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Split Rock Lighthouse

As we started on our drive up the north shore of Lake Superior, we spotted more and more signs of fall color on it's way. Another week or so should be full of color in this entire region. The Split Rock Lighthouse museum had an informative video of the building and operation of the lighthouse. The exhibits presented stories of the shipping and fishing trades in the area and the transition to recreation over the years. The keeper's house has been restored and furnished with authentic antiques from the period when the lighthouse was operating. Guides in period costume provide interesting details of living in the remote area and the work performed. The guide in the kitchen of the keeper's home also provided homebaked gingerbread cookies baked on site in the wood stove - yum! The view of the vast expanse of the lake was intoxicating for us all.

The lighthouse has been carefully restored to it's original form and includes the original Fresnal lens imported from France.
The interior was open for visitors to climb close to the top. The 4-ton lens floats easily on a bath of liquid mercury and consistently rotates for a flashing beacon every 10 seconds, when lit. Now retired, the lighthouse is operated every November 10 to commemorate the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

A view of the master bedroom in the keeper's house shows the comfortable accomodations for the family. Families could only stay during the summer months and had to be transported out by train or by boat before the roadway was constructed.

We took a short trail down to the lakeside. The calm waters contradicted photographs of the much stormier conditions at other times of the year. Storm conditions can cause waves of up to 30 feet, gale force winds of over 60 mph with snow and ice pelting anything in it's path.

On this lovely September afternoon, the lake only held gentle waves lapping the rocks - although with water at 40 F, no one was tempted to swim!

On another path back to the museum, we walked through a wooded area with more hints of fall color. One additional stop at Gooseberry Falls on our return toward Superior.

And one other stop for sustenance. Betty's Pies was irresistable since we had skipped lunch. We all had burgers and sandwiches - and of course had to sample pies. We chose Apple Crisp and Butterfinger Cream from a selection of at least 10 varieties.

The late evening drive along the lakeshore was a very pleasant wind down to the day.

Gitche Gumee

Hard as it was to leave the lovely Bemidji area, we moved along to park at Superior, Wisconsin. The Duluth-Superior area held tremendous surprise for us. Our first outing was to the harbor area where the boys loved climbing on the huge boulders at the entry to the port. The clear, blue expanse of the lake was as beautiful as the ocean views we've seen along our journeys. Again, two former transportation engineers couldn't be more delighted to see the lift bridge that provides Duluth with their trademark emblem.

During our visit to the harbor, we saw four or five 700-1000 ft. long vessels make their passage in or out with the accompanying lifting of the bridge.

Each vessel greeted the bridge operator with a loud sounding of the ship's horn, with the bridge operator returning the greeting. This was a large American cargo ship coming into the harbor.

Once the ship passes, the bridge is lowered for vehicle traffic.

Now it's up again for an outgoing Canadian vessel full of coal.

Inside the visitor's center at the Army Corps of Engineers office, we visited many displays about the harbor's history. the Great Lakes shipping industry, construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway and many stories of ships lost over the years. One of the most famous tragedies was the loss of the Edmund Fitzgerald. Craig and Linda couldn't get the Gordon Lightfoot song out of their heads for the whole day!

The boys are operating a model of the lock system. Video presentations and exhibits were very enlightening for the types of raw materials shipped and how the ships are loaded. Full of information and beautiful sights, we returned to the camper to rest up for another view of Lake Superior the next day.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

A few of 10,000 lakes

Bemidji, MN is in the northern part of the state and in the heart of many of Minnesota's lakes. We stayed in a lovely campground on one of those lakes, Fox Lake about 8 miles north of the city. One of our first outings was to meet Paul Bunyan and Babe, in a place of honor beside the lake near downtown.
Inside the visitor's center, we were introduced to more of Paul Bunyan's belongings, such as; the giant fishing pole, pocket watch, stocking cap, walking stick, moccasins, etc. We also learned more about the area from the helpful staff. The US Olympic curling team has been from Bemidji for the past two Winter Olympics. The winter ice fishing (with at least 30 inches of solid ice) attracts many winter sportsmen to catch fish attracted to the nearby Mississippi River feeding the lake. We'll have to take their word for it as we are not going to be in the area when the ice fishing season begins! We asked about the filming of 'Grumpy Old Men' and the guide said it was filmed a few hundred miles south - where it was much warmer...yikes!

Since we were at a lake and we had been hauling two tackle boxes around with no fishing poles for 7 months, we decided to buy a couple of poles to try our luck. We're working on tying a snap and swivel on to each line before we can get started.

Cory fished for three days, off and on, and got lots of bites, but no fish. The water was clear enough to see some of the fish. The big ones were not interested in our offerings and the perch were too small to get a good bite on the hook. The weather and lake were beautiful enough to make the fishing fun - even with no catch! We took a drive up to International Falls and into Canada a few miles - just to get our passports stamped and take a look. International Falls didn't have a lot of restaurant choices on Sunday afternoon, but we found Barney's to be open. The picture with the logo looked like a Viking - would never have guessed Barney to be a Viking name, but we enjoyed our plentiful lunch anyway.
We also stopped at Border Bob's to look over the souvenirs, but found none to take along. Having only 400 sq. ft. really helps with paring down shopping choices!

Smokey the Bear offered a great photo stop and was wearing a special 65th anniversary medal for his birthday this year.
We crossed the border into Canada after a prolonged stop at the checkpoint. Our youngest son's Guatemalan passport was apparently not a normal occurrence, so Craig had to go inside the office to show additional paperwork and answer questions. I suppose it's an effort to control human trafficking and/or kidnapping.

As we continued on, water was everywhere and we enjoyed seeing the pontoon planes that advertised access to more remote areas.

The water was a deep blue and calm - very peaceful setting.

We stopped for a few minutes at a roadside park alongside the lake.

Our very friendly Minnesota neighbors provided extra firewood, so we had a blazing fire outside almost every night. With the low temperatures in the 40's, we also enjoyed the warmth!

The sunset views of the lake were stunning. The campground provided kayaks, canoes and water bikes for the guests and a pontoon boat was available for rent. Since we could see all the shoreline from land, we didn't see much reason for the boat, but we enjoyed the kayaks. We paddled across the lake and alongside reeds in the lake.

We made another outing to see the headwaters of the Mississippi River at Lake Itasca. Unfortunately, we forgot our camera - so no photos. There were several places along the road where we could see the tiny Mississippi - sometimes with the banks only a yard or two apart. At Lake Itasca, the state park has several displays explaining the Mississippi and the journeys to find the headwaters. The actual headwaters must be even upstream of Lake Itasca, because there are two other lakes that provide tributaries to the upstream end of Lake Itasca. We're more than willing to settle for the designated headwaters however, with the nicely maintained paths. Those that originally charted out the waters mucked their way through knee deep mud and fought mosquitoes in their quest. We're happy that they've made the way easier for the rest of us.