BigWeather's Blog

July 4, 2017

Enchanted Highway

Filed under: Travel — Tags: — BigWeather @ 11:59 pm

Woke up about 8a and ate the standard Holiday Inn Express breakfast with Michelle and Genetta.  Hitting the road at 10a we stopped by McDonalds drive-thru to get Addison a bite to eat and got gas — though truth be told that was just an excuse to de-bug the windshield.  The previous evening’s drive through the prairie had absolutely plastered the windshield with bug remains.  Leaving Fargo (as noted, less than 120,000 people but 15% of the state’s population) we were in the beautiful stretches of prairie that dominate the road to Bismarck in no time.  We saw some snow fences, designed to have snow drifts accumulate off the road so as to not block traffic.

About an hour or so in we stopped by Valley City to use the restroom.  This actually turned out great as the restroom was in the visitor center (shockingly open on July 4th) and it had a really nice (though small) museum.  Turns out that Valley City was an important rail hub in the late 1880s.  The museum focused not only on rail history in North Dakota (including a passenger car used as an office from the 1880s) but also farming in the area.  We learned a ton of neat things about railroads.  There are “ribbon rails” which can bend and are hauled onsite by up to 25 flatbed cars.  An upcoming stop is designated by a sign with a “W” on it, meaning “whistle” to alert traffic and pedestrians.  There was also a caboose in the parking lot.

Passenger car used as an office in the 1880s

Passenger car used as an office in the 1880s

Cool building in Valley City, North Dakota

Cool building in Valley City, North Dakota

As we were about to leave I asked about how far the High Line was from Valley City.  Turns out it was very close nearby so we set out to just north of town to see it.  The High Line is a very long railroad trestle built in the early 1900s that spanned the Sheyenne River.  It was so important that it has been guarded during every major conflict since — World War 1, World War 2, even the Gulf War and just after 9/11!  It was quite the sight, a steel behemoth astride a remarkable blue river snaking through the green prairie grass and riverside bushes.

The High Line in Valley City

The High Line in Valley City

Air Force Jet in a Valley City park

Air Force Jet in a Valley City park

Returning to the car we drove a couple more hours to Bismarck, passing cows, ponds, and lots of birds (white ones like egrets).  Bismarck was a nice small town (despite being the state capitol) but, it being a holiday, was virtually deserted downtown.  It was also hotter than Hell.  Furnace Hot.  We intended to go to the Blarney Stone Irish Pub but they didn’t have a separate dining area for under-21 so we had to leave.  Luckily there was an excellent restaurant nearby.  The Starving Rooster, named after a thresher made in (fairly) nearby Minot that was said to be so efficient that nothing was left for the roosters to eat, served great comfort food that hit the spot.  We started with an appetizer of cheese bread which wasn’t bad.  I had a prime rib stroganoff  bake, Addison bacon macaroni and cheese, Genetta a meat pizza called the Hercules, and Michelle a ham and cheese panini.

Tall prairie in eastern North Dakota

Tall prairie in eastern North Dakota

Train engine from a regional company

Train engine from a regional company

The Starving Rooster in downtown Bismark

The Starving Rooster in downtown Bismarck

Lunch at The Starving Rooster, great comfort food!

Lunch at The Starving Rooster, great comfort food!

We left Bismarck at 3:30p and hit the road once again.  We had intended to go to Fort Abraham Lincoln just west of town, the fort that Custer lived at just prior to Little Big Horn.  There was a July 4th celebration nearby, it was incredibly hot, and we were later than I’d have liked so we passed.  With a 75 MPH speed limit we chewed the miles to the Enchanted Highway.  We had a brief rain shower but no tornado so that bucket list item remains.  Oh well.

Crossing the Missouri River just west of Bismark

Crossing the Missouri River just west of Bismarck

Prairie Lake, love the pale green foliage

Prairie Lake, love the pale green foliage

North Dakota prairie

North Dakota prairie

The Enchanted Highway is a sequence of seven very large roadside sculptures scattered along a 25 mile stretch of road from I-94 south to the small town of Regent, North Dakota.  Those who know us know that we like metal yard art so this was quite the treat.  In fact, this was the primary reason we drove the extra 800 miles or so to western North Dakota rather than just seeing some stuff in Fargo and calling it a state.  I’m so glad we did!  The first sculpture looms over the highway, just to the north off of the exit, as a flock of geese in flight with hundreds of smaller geese sculptures lining the drive up to the main piece.  We decided during our drive to Regent to only stop at the pieces on the right (west) side of the road, catching the other side on the way back to the highway later.

Sculpture of a flock of geese just off of I-94

Sculpture of a flock of geese just off of I-94

Smaller geese sculptures were around the larger one

Smaller geese sculptures were around the larger one

View of the prairie from the geese sculpture

View of the prairie from the geese sculpture

Next was a piece depicting two deer, one jumping a fence.  It honestly didn’t do much for me.  After that, however, was my favorite — a series of immense grasshoppers and some tall metal grass sculptures.  The fourth piece was a family but I really didn’t care for it much (other than from a technical perspective, which was impressive).

Deer sculpture along the Enchanted Highway

Deer sculpture along the Enchanted Highway

Herd of cattle, a common sight in North Dakota

Herd of cattle, a common sight in North Dakota

Sculpture of gigantic grasshoppers and grass

Sculpture of gigantic grasshoppers and grass

Prairie grasses

Prairie grasses

Sculpture of a tin family

Sculpture of a tin family

Rolling into Regent we noticed there was an Enchanted Highway Gift Shop in a small building flanked by a silver metal tree (festooned with birds’ nests) and a large house whirligig with lots of moving parts.  Inside there were shirts, magnets (!!!), and lots of other things.  They also had miniature versions of the geese in the first sculpture that Michelle was seriously pondering.  I thought I recognized the gentleman behind the counter — turns out it was the artist.  We got into a conversation and he talked about his work, his plans for three more — a knight and dragon, spiders in a spider web, and a Native American — but his struggle to find farmers willing to sell the small parcel of land needed for each.  He invited us to see his progress  on the knight and dragon near the small Enchanted Castle motel (with faux medieval facade) he runs.  Finally, he asked what our favorites were.  It was really neat to talk with him and he even “signed” with a router underneath the wing of the goose yard art that Michelle bought.  We also donated $25 to his efforts in addition to the stuff we bought — we got at least that much enjoyment out of seeing his work!

Enchanted Highway Gift Shop in Regent, North Dakota

Enchanted Highway Gift Shop in Regent, North Dakota

The artist signing a small metal goose yard art

The artist signing a small metal goose yard art

Large whirligig with many moving parts

Large whirligig with many moving parts

Upon exit of the store we animated the whirligig with the push of a button and then drove the short distance to see the beginnings of the knight and dragon statue, basically most of the knight was done but lying on its back.

Grain elevator in Regent, North Dakota

Grain elevator in Regent, North Dakota

The unfinished knight is to the right, hands in the air

The unfinished knight is to the right, hands in the air

We then headed back north towards the highway to see the remaining three sculptures.  The first we came to was the outline of Teddy Roosevelt (best President) on top of a horse as well as a stage coach.  I liked TR but the stage coach wasn’t the coolest.  They may have worked better separately.  Next up was my second favorite, a small group of pheasants made of colored canvas covering wire frames.

Sculpture of a stage coach as well as Teddy Roosevelt on a horse

Sculpture of a stage coach as well as Teddy Roosevelt on a horse

Yet more prairie (sorry, but I think it is beautiful!)

Yet more prairie (sorry, but I think it is beautiful!)

Sculpture of pheasants

Sculpture of pheasants

One of the pheasants -- note the street sign in the lower right corner for scale

One of the pheasants — note the street sign in the lower right corner for scale

Interesting rock outcroppings rose out of the prairie

Interesting rock outcroppings rose out of the prairie

Lastly there was a fairly elaborate fishing scene with fish below the surface, above the surface, river grasses, and a fisherman in a boat.  Also along the way we saw cows, sheep, a very bright yellow crop (that we’d later learn the identity of — stay tuned!), and pheasants.

There were fields of a bright yellow crop every so often

There were fields of a bright yellow crop every so often

Another shot of the prairie

Another shot of the prairie

Sculpture of fish and a fisherman

Sculpture of fish and a fisherman

Close up of the sculpture with a fish eating a dragonfly

Close up of the sculpture with a fish eating a dragonfly

The extreme southwestern corner of North Dakota is actually in Mountain Daylight Time which sort of caught us by surprise as I expected the boundary to be along the Montana border only about 30 miles away.  We arrived at our hotel in Dickinson, a Holiday Inn Express, about 6:30p and rested for an hour.  Unfortunately that rest cost us the opportunity to go to the adjacent Sanford’s Pub & Grub as it closed at 8p so we were forced to go to Arby’s.  It was… Arby’s.  Kids had chicken tenders, I had beef and cheddars, and Michelle had… Oh, heck, I can’t remember — it was Arby’s.  We were back to the hotel at 8:45p and spent a couple of hours watching fireworks on TV while I offloaded photos and typed up the daily summary for later bloggin’, heading to bed at 10:30p.

Route for July 4, 2017

Route for July 4, 2017

 

July 3, 2017

Decades of Fireworks in One Night

Filed under: Travel — Tags: — BigWeather @ 11:59 pm

We awoke at 8a or so, a little later than normal, and ate breakfast at the hotel (well, most of us — Addison prefers to just sleep in and hope we stop by McDonalds or something for him when we get on the road).  Setting out about 10a we crossed back over the Mississippi to Minnesota and followed the River Road for a bit.  There were several beautiful overlooks and even a “lake”, Lake Pepin, named for a very wide part of the river.  Along the way we saw some locks (#5 in this case) and a dam, but stopped for neither as we had a full day ahead.  We eventually crossed back into Wisconsin at Red Wing, Minnesota, home to the shoe company.  The road took us on top of the bluffs and back into farm land before crossing the St. Croix river and entry back into Minnesota.

Upper Mississippi National Wildlife Refuge

Upper Mississippi National Wildlife Refuge

Rocky outcropping in southern Minnesota

Rocky outcropping in southern Minnesota

Lake Pepin between Minnesota and Wisconsin

Lake Pepin between Minnesota and Wisconsin

BNSF engines hauling freight along the Mississippi

BNSF engines hauling freight along the Mississippi

A short while later we were to the southern outskirts of St. Paul and Minneapolis.  The highway went over a good bit of marshy land before we passed by the airport and a Delta hangar with several passenger planes sitting outside.  The Mall of America was less than a mile south of the airport.  We arrived about 2p and parked in the New York area (we skipped some other states, notably Delaware — I still hold a grudge!).  Each area, as I noted, was associated with a state and a cool plaque (in the case of New York, Liberty’s head).

Marsh just south of the Twin Cities

Marsh just south of the Twin Cities

Delta hangar near Minneapolis' airport

Delta hangar near Minneapolis’ airport

Sign for Mall of America in Bloomington, near Minneapolis

Sign for Mall of America in Bloomington, near Minneapolis

Each parking area was associated with a state

Each parking area was associated with a state

An absolutely huge mall, or more accurately, four malls (each four stories tall) associated with the cardinal directions, all connected to the middle with a full fledged Nickelodeon theme park with roller coasters, log flume, etc.  Even the mall directories were slick — full touch screen with directions provided for each store from the current location.  The mall was connected to the Twin Cities’ light rail system.  Very convenient.

One of the four "malls" within Mall of America, four stories each

One of the four “malls” within Mall of America, four stories each

Cross-section of the mall

Cross-section of the mall

Nickelodeon Universe, complete with roller coaster and log flume

Nickelodeon Universe, complete with roller coaster and log flume

Another shot of the theme park

Another shot of the theme park

We passed by a place called Smaaash that had karts, sports stuff, VR games / scenarios like zombie apocalypse, etc.  Focused on food, however, we decided to eat at Dick’s Last Resort.  We’d never eaten there before and it has an interesting “hook” — the menu items are loaded with innuendos and the wait staff is rude and insulting (by design).  The waiter was nice and funny, but still not a fan of paying to have someone be mean.  All in fun, I guess.  The food was fair at best — Michelle had a chicken sandwich, Genetta a Philly, and Addison and I bacon cheeseburgers.  The cheese stick appetizer wasn’t bad, though.  The waiter gave Addison crap about being on his phone some during lunch and made paper hats for the kids to wear during the meal.  They obliged, surprisingly!

Dick's Last Resort in Mall of America

Dick’s Last Resort in Mall of America

(Supposed) World's Largest Pac-Man, impressive!

(Supposed) World’s Largest Pac-Man, impressive!

Despite its size the shopping wasn’t that much different than any mall at home.  In addition to the theme park, however, it did have an aquarium, the “Crayola Experience” which lets you create your own crayon color (sadly we were a bit too old to do that), and a few surprises in addition to the GameStops (yes, they had two), Caribou Coffee, Fossil, and the like.  They had a store dedicated to selling Mall of America merchandise (we got a magnet, of course!), one featuring all alpaca products (Genetta got a pillow), one selling gelato (they were out of coffee, grrrr!), etc.  Neatest of all (to me, at least) was a store called Brickmania.  This store repackages authentic LEGO pieces and some custom molded additions to produce military kits, mostly focused on World War Two but also some Gulf War and other conflicts.  They had an amazing diorama of the Battle of Stalingrad complete with muzzle flash LEDs and a crashed Messerschmidt fighter!  They had some — dare I say it — adorable minifigs from various conflicts.  Finally, there was an amazing Stuka JU-87 dive bomber kit on display that was thankfully out of production.  I totally would’ve succumbed!

Brickmania store in Mall of America

Brickmania store in Mall of America

Brickmania's diorama of the Battle of Stalingrad

Brickmania’s diorama of the Battle of Stalingrad

The Stuka dive bomber, thankfully out of production!

The Stuka dive bomber, thankfully out of production!

Speaking of LEGOs, they had a really impressive LEGO store.  It was fairly open air on the first floor adjacent to the theme park.  Above the store were very impressive scenes made out of LEGO — a mech, an explorer with a globe, a Neanderthal fighting a saber-tooth tiger, etc.  Along the outside wall were all of the LEGO logos (say that ten times!) as well.  And the wall with all of the different pieces you can buy individually was massive!  Very cool.

LEGO store in Mall of America

LEGO store in Mall of America

LEGO logos through the years

LEGO logos through the years

Detail of a shield held by a LEGO Greek warrior

Detail of a shield held by a LEGO Greek warrior

Detail of the Explorer and globe -- check out the feather!

Detail of the Explorer and globe — check out the feather!

A LEGO Neanderthal facing off against a saber-tooth tiger

A LEGO Neanderthal facing off against a saber-tooth tiger

We left the mall around 6p and drove a while to St. Cloud.  Genetta chose a place for us to eat, Mongo’s Grill.  Like our local Crazy Fire it was a Mongolian grill.  The main difference was that eggs were an option that you could ask for at the grill rather than having to waste precious bowl space.  Nice!  The food was excellent and we hit the road again a little after 8p.  Before leaving down we stopped by a gas station and Walgreen’s for medicine, DEET, and Whoppers (the candy, not the hamburger).

One consequence of travelling over the fourth is we weren’t going to be able to go to our local fireworks display.  In addition, the road between Minneapolis and Fargo was three hours of farmland.  Being dusk that meant it would be decidedly boring.  It being July 3, however, we were in for a treat that killed both birds with one stone — we witnessed over twenty separate fireworks displays!  We just happened to be chasing the dusk line west and as the sight lines are incredible in the prairie of western Minnesota we could see displays from miles around in all directions.  Really neat.  Finally crossed into North Dakota (#45!) and arrived in Fargo between 11p and midnight.  Fargo is the largest city in North Dakota but at 115,000 people smaller than many of the towns around where we live.  The Holiday Inn Express was right next to a funky looking restaurant that we were sadly too late to go to.

Space Aliens restaurant in Fargo, North Dakota

Space Aliens restaurant in Fargo, North Dakota

Took a little time to offload and upload pictures and went to bed, another big day of driving ahead.

Route for July 3, 2017

Route for July 3, 2017

July 2, 2017

River Road

Filed under: Travel — Tags: — BigWeather @ 11:59 pm

Awoke early (for us!) just past 7a.  Trying this new-fangled “get out early and hopefully get to the hotel early that night” thing — let’s see how it goes.  Despite the cost and it looking suspiciously like (at best, slightly better than) the free breakfasts we often get at Holiday Inn Express, we dug into the breakfast at the Holiday Inn (note the absence of Express).  It wasn’t too bad.  Checked out of the room via their Web site, leaving the keys and just walking out.  Feels weird, man.

Wisconsin themed taps

Wisconsin themed taps

First order of the day was to stop by Walgreens for some essentials.  Tissues for Addison (still suffering from a cold), aloe for Addison (suffering from sunburn from his recent trip to the Florida Keys with the Boy Scouts), trash bags for trash we accumulate during travel, twenty-four count of bottled water, and some medicine.  I don’t know what happened to the legendary Midwestern hospitality with the clerk there as he was jibing at Michelle to “speak up” under his breath when she answered no to whether we had their rewards card or whatever.  Then had the kahunas to ask if we wanted one — as if!

Anyhow, headed out of Madison heading northwest on US-12, a very pleasant drive through rolling hills and farms (some corn, some dairy).  Quite beautiful.  After a brief stop to fuel up and de-bug our thoroughly plastered windshield we hit WI-60, a Wisconsin scenic by-way following the north bank of the Wisconsin River.  The river was quite wide, at least a hundred feet, in many places and not very muddy.  It was surrounded by thick forest and, surprisingly, a great number of hills.

Wisconsin's beautiful farms

Wisconsin’s beautiful farms

Surprised at how hilly southern Wisconsin was

Surprised at how hilly southern Wisconsin was

Fields along the Wisconsin River

Fields along the Wisconsin River

We arrived in Spring Green and crossed the bridge to the south bank of the river.  Perched along that south bank is Frank Lloyd Wright’s former residence, Taliesin.  We pulled into the visitor center about 11:45a and discovered that the only tour of the house that could accommodate four people was at 4p, way too late for us to attend.  Probably a good thing, they were asking north of $50 each.  Ouch!  Plus the people in the visitor center were a bit on the snooty side, annoyingly so.  Oh well.  The gift shop did have an amazing view of the river and a number of neat things and Genetta ended up getting a cool pair of earrings.  We also learned (via a book at the visitor center) that Taliesin had burned down in 1914 when a mentally disturbed employee, newly employed, set fire to the structure.  As the residents, including Wright’s mistress, ran out he cut them down with an axe, murdering seven in total.  Crazy.

Wisconsin River near Taliesin

Wisconsin River near Taliesin

Taliesin visitor center

Taliesin visitor center

Interior of the visitor center

Interior of the visitor center

Taliesin as seen from the road

Taliesin as seen from the road

Despite not going on the tour we did drive past the house / studio and take a few pictures before heading up the road.  Not soon after we came to an overlook that we figured must be incredible since it had a parking lot on both sides of the highway and a covered pedestrian bridge (which people had attached combination locks to) connecting them.  Wrong!  A short walk took us to no view but instead a bench and a rock in the middle of the forest.  Odd, maybe it had had a nice view at one time.

Our trusty steed for this journey, a Ford Explorer

Our trusty steed for this journey, a Ford Explorer

Next we went to the House on the Rock about 1p.  Most recently featured (or hinted at) in Starz’s American Gods we figured it’d be worth seeing at least.  The drive up was promising — well shaded and cool metal and clay sculptures / statues including a metal peacock.  We learned, however, that though the house itself is pretty odd (including the “Infinity Room” that extends out unsupported and has thousands of windows) the eclectic collections within (armor, dolls, jewels) were often reproductions or even produced on site.  Kind of a bummer.

Sign for The House on the Rock

Sign for The House on the Rock

Cool planter at House on the Rock

Cool planter at The House on the Rock

The builder of the house, once rejected by Frank Lloyd Wright, built the house just down the road as an irritant to he who rejected him.  Genetta and I looked at the courtyard of the house from the visitor center balcony.  A high cost of entry, lack of authentic objects within, and an overzealous parking lot attendant that had Michelle straighten her parking job (despite there being nobody near) led to us bailing without going within.  Got a magnet though, haha.  Oh, and saw Montana and Nebraska license plates so in all a decent non-event.

Courtyard of The House on the Rock

Courtyard of The House on the Rock

By now everyone was hungry so we drove to Dodgeville for lunch (at Subway, it was OK) and some medicine from Walgreens at around 2p.  Headed back across the Wisconsin to Spring Green then west on WI-60 along the river until we entered Iowa, our 44th state.  Drove along the Mississippi River (impressively wide despite being so far north, though really a series of channels due to islands within) to Effigy Mounds National Monument by 4p.

We actually did visit there properly!  First went to the gift shop and bought a magnet and enjoyed the small museum chronicling not only the Native Americans (mound building culture) that built the mounds but also the efforts to document, understand, and ultimately preserve them in the 1800s and 1900s.  We watched a video as well that stated that the mounds were built from 1000 B.C. to about 1300 A.D. during the spring, summer, and fall seasons when the Native Americans lived there (they’d scatter during the harsh winters).  They moved earth to the site via buckets and would often build the mounds for burials.

Diorama at Effigy Mounds National Monument visitor center, showing the positions of some mounds

Diorama at Effigy Mounds National Monument visitor center, showing the positions of some mounds

At 4:30p we started on the trail.  Immediately we encountered three small circular mounds.  They were about two to three feet high each and ten or so feet in diameter and covered in ferns.  Then the trail proper began.  It was very steep at first with switchbacks as we gained elevation from the river.  Once at the top of the bluffs it leveled out substantially.  We saw the Little Bear Mound (again, not very tall, but we could make out the shape fairly easily) then Big Bear Mound as well as some other be-ferned mounds of various other shapes.

One of the mounds at Effigy Mounds NM in Iowa

One of the mounds at Effigy Mounds NM in Iowa

A cute chipmunk at Effigy Mounds NM

A cute chipmunk at Effigy Mounds NM

Before heading down we checked out two beautiful views of the Mississippi — Fire Point and Eagle Point.  Fire Point was the more impressive of the two, offering expansive views of the river channels and the islands, many containing river cottages, dotting them.  Eagle Point had a good view of the railroad trestle spanning some boggy land on the Iowa side of the river but sadly no train passed by while we were up there.  On the way back down Addison talked at length about his recent trip to the Florida Keys with Boy Scouts — really neat to hear about it.  One particularly amusing story was that the island, Munsen, had a number of deer and the people running the camp called each one “Steve”.

View of the Mississippi looking south from Fire Point

View of the Mississippi looking south from Fire Point

View of the Mississippi looking north from Fire Point

View of the Mississippi looking north from Fire Point

Vacation homes on the banks of the Mississippi

Vacation homes on the banks of the Mississippi

Woods typical for the bluffs of the Mississippi

Woods typical for the bluffs of the Mississippi

Railroad trestle as seen from Eagle Point

Railroad trestle as seen from Eagle Point

Made it back down the trail just after 6p and drove toward our destination for the night, Holiday Inn Express at La Crosse, Wisconsin.  Along the way we passed through extreme southeastern Minnesota (our 45th state!) and saw many riverside mobile homes and shacks on stilts.  I imagine so that they can be moved rapidly when the river inevitably floods.  I was surprised by how many hills and bluffs there were, some so high that our Sirius reception kept cutting out.

One of many bridges across the Mississippi

One of many bridges across the Mississippi

Marshy land on the banks of the Mississippi

Marshy land on the banks of the Mississippi

We arrived in La Crosse about 8p and checked in.  They check-in person recommended that we go to the Blue Moon Saloon in Onalaska.  It was a solid choice, though it had nothing to doo with the brewery despite ripping off pretty much all of their symbols / branding).  We had an appetizer of baked potato skins.  Brian and Addison had Western BBQ burgers (Brian’s with garlic mashed potatoes, Addison’s with fries), Michelle had a BLT and sweet potato fries, and Genetta had chicken fried chicken and a salad.

The Blue Moon Saloon in Onalaska, Wisconsin -- no relation to the brewery

The Blue Moon Saloon in Onalaska, Wisconsin — no relation to the brewery

After leaving the Blue Moon Saloon we took pictures of the sunset over the Mississippi at an overlook then went down to south La Crosse to see the movie “Baby Driver”.  It was quite good, had the comfy recliner seating, and was not packed at all (10p on a Sunday, I guess!).  Got back to the hotel around 1a and finished the first night’s blog and headed to bed.

Sunset over the Mississippi near La Crosse, Wisconsin

Sunset over the Mississippi near La Crosse, Wisconsin

Sign for Onalaska, Wisconsin

Sign for Onalaska, Wisconsin

Route for July 2, 2017

Route for July 2, 2017

July 1, 2017

Lakeside Origins

Filed under: Travel — Tags: — BigWeather @ 11:59 pm

Back when Michelle and I started seriously talking about a goal of showing the kids all fifty states (or at least the lower 48) we knew there’d be a trip (or two!) that wouldn’t be as exciting as the others.  When planning our first major trip (ignoring the prior drive to Maine in 2007 and to St. Louis in 2009 which, in retrospect, were pretty major but only one week) we struggled with whether to knock out one of the more boring trips or try and hit the wow! ones first.  In the end we realized that we didn’t know how long we could keep the trips up as the kids grew up and had greater responsibilities and it would be best to hit the wow! trips first.

Thus, we set out in 2010 to see the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, Devil’s Tower, Yellowstone, the Tetons, etc.  It was magnificent.  2011 I had some difficulty getting really into the planning and kept putting it off until it was too late to bother with flying, renting a car, etc.  Thus we decided upon a trip that, while it didn’t hit many new states, showed them a decent chunk of our neighbor to the north (Happy Canada Day!) as well as allowed me to share a place that is very dear to me and was a major part of my youth — our cabin in Camp Sabael in the Adirondacks.  2012 we hit the ground running with our first trip to New Orleans with the kids and another amazing trip, a drive from Seattle to Los Angeles, hitting many coastal and interior sites (Mount Ranier, Olympic, Mount Saint Helens, Astoria, Crater Lake, Redwood, Lassen Volcanic, Yosemite, San Francisco, the Pacific Coast Highway, and of course LA).  2013 found us visiting the desert Southwest and seeing many of the Utah National Parks, rafting in Colorado, visiting Mesa Verde, White Sands, and the Grand Canyon.

2014 was an off year for us due to family issues, though we did manage to visit New Orleans and Baton Rouge again.  2015 we were ready to journey again but the reality was the most exciting parts of the lower 48 were behind us.  I planned the trip to the Upper Midwest and, three weeks before intended departure — I had put off planning it so much that I hadn’t even arranged air or rental car, Addison suggested Alaska.  I shot it down immediately but it did have a certain appeal…  Three weeks later we embarked on our tour of that spectacular state.  2016 was an amazing year of travel but not for seeing the United States.  I went to India in January and Genetta studied abroad in Italy in June so of course I had to latch on to that and visit as well!

2017 after another visit to New Orleans (this time with my parents and brother and his family) found us still short five states in the Upper Midwest as well as Oklahoma, Kansas, and Hawaii.  Hawaii is intended for 2019 (though maybe just for Michelle and I).  That left two not-so-exciting trips to knock out.  With the kids at 17 and 20 it was unlikely that it would work out anyhow and, with time short, wouldn’t it be better to scrap this silly plan and just swing for the fences and go to Ireland or Iceland (or both) or something really cool?  I proposed scrapping the plan but met resistance from Genetta.  Addison was more ambivalence, he wasn’t thrilled about the remaining states nor Europe.

So here we are, staying in Madison, Wisconsin (my 43rd state!), having decided to knock out the trip that would net the largest gain of states (5 vs. 2 for the Lower Plains) just in case 2018 doesn’t happen.  I think it’ll be a fun trip.  Sure, it’s not Europe or Hawaii, but each part of our country has its own quirks and charms and I’m eager to explore it.

We awoke at about 7a and had some bagels and packed, leaving the house around 10a.  Got to the airport at about 10:30a and parked in the nice but not-super-nice extended stay.  Literally walked straight up to the check-in counter, straight up to the TSA security checkpoint, etc.  RDU was totally deserted!  The TSA agent commented that Friday had been busy but I guess by Saturday morning everyone had gone to their Fourth destinations.  We ate Char-Grill at the terminal — same fare, definitely inflated price — then headed to A7 for our 1:15p flight on Southwest.  Unfortunately Addison was feeling quite under the weather with his nose being stopped up and a slight cough.  Boarded at 12:45p, in the air on time.  The flight was quite choppy and the landing was a bit rough (I can’t remember the last time I’ve come in that fast).  It wasn’t easy on Addison with his cold but he soldiered on.

At Chicago’s Midway airport we got our luggage and headed to get our rental, a Ford Explorer, from Budget.  They stated it had a little over 4,000 miles on it asking if it was OK.  Kind of snickered as we’ll be nearly doubling that!  Beat a hasty retreat out of Chicago.  The traffic was a little bad and the drivers definitely a bit on the crazy side in this, the third most populous city in America.  Some things didn’t surprise me — the small one-level homes packed on small lots in neatly laid out blocks — but other things did.  I didn’t expect all the evergreen trees I saw (expected that further north) nor the copious number of ponds with large swaths of reeds and cat o’ nine tails.  Very cool.

Lake in northern Illinois, they sure do love their boats up here!

Lake in northern Illinois, they sure do love their boats up here!

Beautiful Illinois farmland

Beautiful Illinois farmland

Agonizingly close to the Wisconsin border — really, less than a mile! — we stopped for dinner at a place called “Red’s”.  It looked a little sketchy on the outside but we took a chance.  Ended up being a solid place with a very friendly wait staff.  We had mozzarella cheese sticks and fried mushrooms for appetizers.  Genetta had a blue cheese stuffed burger, Michelle pulled pork on garlic bread with sweet potato fries (which she liked greatly), Addison a 16oz ribeye, and myself beef brisket on garlic bread.  Michelle and I both liked our BBQ but they did put a bit too much tomato-based sauce on it.  They also brought out homemade cheddar as well as Swiss almond cheese.  Though they had the consistency of butter they were very tasty and sharper than most cheese we are used to.

Headed out from dinner, finally crossing into our first new state, Wisconsin.  Yay!  Two things about their roads.  First, they use that crazy letter naming scheme for county roads that we previously saw in Missouri (maybe it is a Midwest thing) and second they aren’t shy about letting a road by 70mph, even a non-interstate one.  That’ll come in handy!

Made it to Lake Geneva around 6:30p.  It was quite crowded with many pedestrians wandering around particularly at the lakefront.  We drove by what I *think* was Gary Gygax’s childhood home.  Who is he?  He came up with the world’s first role-playing game, Dungeons & Dragons.  Next we drove by Horticultural Hall, the place he rented out for $50 in the late 60s and put on the first GenCon (now in its 50th year the largest roleplaying convention in the world).  A beautiful German-styled building among beautiful landscaping and evergreens.  As there was some sort of event being held there I just snapped a couple of pictures and we moved on to the lakefront.

Welcome to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, birthplace of D&D

Welcome to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, birthplace of D&D

Horticultural Hall, where the very first GenCon was held fifty years ago

Horticultural Hall, where the very first GenCon was held fifty years ago

Despite the crowd we managed to find a fairly convenient spot next to a park not far from the lakefront.  The lake was blue and quite clear, we could see the rocky bottom and lake weeds.  The surface teemed with boats of all shapes, sizes, and types.  Pontoon boats, jet skis, sail boats, power boats with skiers, and even a few old-timey passenger ferry vessels.  A historic Victorian hotel built in 1885 overlooked the lake and was very striking.

Baker House Victorian mansion turned hotel in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

Baker House Victorian mansion turned hotel in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

We walked toward the docks where the passenger ferries were moored and checked out the pavers near a fountain in front of a small shopping arcade.  There we found the one dedicated to the memory of Gygax.  It depicted a dragon curled atop a d20 (which was naturally showing a 20).  Very neat (if a bit nerdy!)

Plaque dedicated to the memory of E. Gary Gygax, creator of D&D

Plaque dedicated to the memory of E. Gary Gygax, creator of D&D

Passenger ferry at Lake Geneva marina

Passenger ferry at Lake Geneva marina

Driehaus Family Fountain near the memorial paver

Driehaus Family Fountain near the memorial paver

A look back at Lake Geneva's Riviera, its pier area

A look back at Lake Geneva’s Riviera, its pier area

Lake Geneva's marina

Lake Geneva’s marina

Oh, the temperature was marvelous!  Low humidity and barely 80.  It was an easy and very pleasant walk back to the car.  We left Lake Geneva heading west for Janesville at just short of 8p.  I had entertained hopes of visiting and shopping at Noble Knight, a very large gaming store.  With the time as late as it was and them closing at 8p I knew this wasn’t going to happen.  I was still determined to visit, however, even if I couldn’t shop!

Another view of Lake Geneva's Baker House

Another view of Lake Geneva’s Baker House

Lake Geneva boats and docks

Lake Geneva boats and docks

I loved the reflection of the red boat as well as the duckies!

I loved the reflection of the red boat as well as the duckies!

So many beautiful flowers and plants and an amazing lake as well!

So many beautiful flowers and plants and an amazing lake as well!

On the way we saw many farms, some quite large.  Humongous stretches of crops with only a clump of trees and a silo or two cracking the canopy.  We made the mistake of not recycling our air and got a long whiff of the all-natural fertilizer the farms were using.  If ya know what I mean.  Just shy of Janesville we passed a small concert and fair with a Ferris wheel.  We saw this guy do a standing hurdle over a chest high fence — amazing.

After stopping at Noble Knight and taking a few pictures of the sign we drove the remainder of the way to our destination for the night, the Holiday Inn in West Madison.  Nice room, too late to swim though.  That was just as well — Addison need not get in the water with his cold and we were all tired.  They turned in while I blogged.

Sign for Noble Knight Games of Janeville, Wisconsin

Sign for Noble Knight Games of Janeville, Wisconsin

Route for July 1, 2017

Route for July 1, 2017

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