Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Badlands....Bad to the Bone

After leaving the World's Only Corn Palace, I felt corny so I kept it going, hence the title of this post.  I will stop after this and go back to normal which is roughly defined for me anyway.

Badlands National Park.

I think the best way to sum it up is to quote Pearl, "I cannot believe what I am seeing."

This was our first visit to this park and I have to say that I fell in love and cannot wait to return!  The rock formations, the colors, the starkness, the animals all made the park an incredible place.

This particular scenery was new to Pearl.  She had never seen anything like it.  She kept giving us directions: "Pauline, stop here," "Pauline, take a picture of that over there," and she would point, "Pauline, make sure you get that," and she would point again.

Half the fun and amazement was seeing Pearl's face.  Even posing with the bronze Fonz in Milwaukee and Cornelia at the Corn Palace didn't compare to the spectacular beauty of Badlands.  Some photos.

It was 100 degrees while we were here and that is no exaggeration - the temperature read 99 on the outdoor thermometer feature of the truck and that was later in the day.  In fact it was so hot that I am quite sure my nipples melted right off my boobs and rolled in the sweat river right down to my belly button (never fear, I was able to put them back in Montana where it was much cooler).

Why is it called Badlands?  The area is home to the Lakota people.  According to the Badlands National Park web site, the Lakota ancestors called it "mako sica" or "land bad" because of the harsh conditions - high temperatures, lack of water, rugged terrain. The Lakota also know this area to be sacred to them.

It is also a geologists and paleontologists dream!  The geology of the area is quite unique and is better explained at this link.  I'm not going to try to outdo other nerds!  And if you like fossils, here is where you will find your peeps!  Turns out Pearl isn't as interested in all of that.  She would have gone along for the ride but Jamie and I like to read everything and see all the exhibits.  Yeah, we're those goobers.  We will have to return when we can spend time poring over all the information and when we can walk a bit more extensively.

And the wildlife!  We saw:
  • Prairie dogs - which were enormous fun to watch
  • A snake - although it didn't rank high enough in the fauna hierarchy to get a picture in the Badlands Visitors Guide
  • Bighorn Sheep - on our way back from Wall Drug. Jamie was so excited he had to tell a couple of others folks, "hey, did you see the bighorn sheep up that way?" like a little kid

Hey, what up, tourists?
Prairie dogs!

The snake is kinda visible to the left in the photo.

Bighorn sheep relaxing in the heat.

We drove around the recommended Badlands Loop Road because it was much too hot to go hiking and we were worried that Pearl might not want to do that with "beware rattlesnakes" signs all over the place.

We stayed just outside the park so we were able to have the worst dinner with the worst service (shame on you, National Park Service official lodging and dining in the park - Cedar Pass Lodge).  Thank goodness the sunset more than made up for it.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Great Corn Palace - only in America

After leaving Milwaukee, we had an incredibly pleasant drive west through Wisconsin and into Minnesota (I have to confess that sometimes I type words and have auto correct do some of the work.  I couldn't get Minnesota right for the life of me just now.  Had to use Google.  Not sure if it's because it's the evening or I'm just a dumbass.)

We crossed the Mississippi River and I didn't even realize it was the Mississippi.  I'm used to very high bridges over this very large river.  I was expecting to crap myself because I am not a fan of heights.  [You can bet that you will hear more about that fear with future posts.  Turns out there are mountains out west.]

We left Milwaukee in the early afternoon so we spent the night in Sioux Falls at a Quality Inn.  It seems that every hotel has a swimming pool and some even have water slides.  This particular hotel also had "adult only" swim from 10-11 p.m. as noted below. My first thought was, racy and kinky.  Then I thought, that's actually brilliant (not the kink).  One of the things I hate about hotel pools is the kids.  I was too tired to find out what the adult swim was about so we may never know.....

We got up early the next day so that we could make it to Badlands National Park in time to explore.  If you've not been in South Dakota on Route 90, you may miss the 4,567,890 (+/- 1,000,000) billboards on the side of the road advertising every kitschy museum and roadside attraction.  It's like traveling to Florida and seeing the South of the Border signs but this is South of the Border on crack.

Corn Palace, Wall Drugs, 1800's Town, Al's Oasis, you name it.  The Corn Palace was too corny (pun intended, and I'm still giggling) to pass up.  Jamie thought I was nuts.  I said, okay, advertising works.  We have to see this place that's been touted as the "only corn palace in the world."  Honestly, though, how many would there need to be worldwide?

We made fun of the idea of the Corn Palace and then followed all the signs off the exit to the Corn Palace.  Then we marveled.  What an interesting and odd place and what a neat idea.  I have to applaud people who do things like this to attract attention to an otherwise sleepy place.  It was just damn cool.

And Pearl got in on the action.  Here is a photo of her with the resident mascot, Cornelia.

The Corn Palace is the main attraction in Mitchell, South Dakota.  Murals made of corn are constructed each year around a particular theme. 2016's theme is Rock of Ages.  Murals were of musicians and other music-related scenes. The "palace" hosts concerts and other events.  At the time we were there, the auditorium was a giant gift shop.

You can see Elvis made of corn and corn parts.

This photo and the photo below right are close up shots of one of the murals.
You can see how intricate this work is.

The gift shot auditorium.

And what do you buy in the gift shop? Salt and pepper shakers to season your corn!

Al's Oasis is advertised for miles and hit our journey right at lunch time so we figured we would try it.  Um, delicious bison burger and the best onion rings!  The pies looked awesome but we were quite full from the rest of the meal.  Worth a stop!  Al's also has a large gift shop and convenience store.  I bought a book and as I was checking out the cashier started talking about the two presidential candidates.  What?!  And I don't even know how it got started.  Something about being tired and then tired of the election and she doesn't like either candidate.  Okay, great for you.  I thought politics was one topic you didn't discuss with strangers!  Egad!  Can we talk about the onion rings?  Or the magnificent Missouri River (below).

Every visitor on I-90 in South Dakota must stop at Wall Drugs if for no other reason than to get a cup of water.  Honestly, it's the most touristy, ridiculousness around.  Water would be all you want.  But you have to make the pilgrimage. Enough road signs signal that Wall Drugs has water, donuts, cowboy boots, a diner, you name it, that you have to see what the hubaloo is about.

Pearl with Poker Alice
Drinking the water

In the travel chapel

I have a confession.  I had Jamie take a picture of me in the travel chapel at Wall Drugs. Then our truck broke down in Yellowstone (more on that later).  I think it may have been fault for making fun of the travel chapel.  I don't think God appreciated my sense of humor.

Next post.....Badlands National Park.  It deserves its own post.  Preview: Spectacular!

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Schlemiel, Schlimazel, Milwaukee!

The first stop on our trip out west with Pearl was Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  Yup, that's correct - Milwaukee.  I read that Milwaukee is one of the best cities to visit in the United States in 2016 so I thought we would check it out.

It reminds me of Buffalo in many ways - German heritage, river, architecturally interesting buildings, brats, and beer. We arrived late our first night.  We expected to get in early enough to have dinner downtown but we were delayed for two hours just east of Chicago because of a tractor trailer fire on I-90.  What sucks about this is we were about ten cars in.  The fire was on the other side of the thruway but because the fire was quite intense and they had to get emergency crews to the scene, traffic was stopped on both sides.

Jamie used to drive tractor trailers and he is an engineer.  Bad combination when stopped in traffic for two hours wondering what the hell is going on.  We had all sorts of theories and he was explaining all that could have gone wrong ("What probably happened is the something or other just in back of the cab rubbed on something and that caused the fire."  I felt like the dog in the Far Side comic who recognizes only its name in a conversation with its owner.  He thought it was a catalytic converter fire.  Sure.)

It took so long that we counted up the vehicles that arrived to help with this fire.  This is as much as we could count: 2-3 ambulances, 3 copters, hook and ladder truck, police and fire people, 5-6 water tankers/foam trucks, tow truck, Indiana state troopers, 2 flatbed wreckers, a Bobcat skidster (I don't know what that is, but Jamie said it so I wrote it down).

This is after the fire died down a bit.  Smoke was quite intense for a bit. You can see how close we were to freedom.

Three helicopters circled. I assumed they were TV copters - this is just one.  We found no evidence of this incident on any news outlet.

We got the all clear and we are driving by.

Some of the emergency vehicles called into service.
While we were waiting, Pearl and I ate our little package of blueberries.  I opened them for her, handed them to her and then after a few minutes asked if I could have some.  She handed the package up to me (I was in the front seat, she behind me).  I started eating them and she said, "take some for yourself and pass them back. I'm not done yet."  Hey, she is the boss.

Once we were given the green light to drive, we drove by and saw that it was a truck full of Brawny paper towels.  I joked with Jamie that those damn paper towels sucked up enough of the liquid that was sprayed onto that fire!  No wonder it took so long to put out!

We did joke that if I didn't have to stop and go to the bathroom, we would have made it ahead of this accident.  I said that if he didn't forget something at home at the start of the trip, we would have made it past the accident.  We also joked that if we didn't get behind some idiot at McDonald's asking the folks to remake his eggs because he was sure they were from a can and not from actual eggs getting cracked for him, we would have made it past the accident.  But where's the story in that?

[As an aside, when we drove home we took this same route and Jamie said he thought he saw a cross on the side of the road at this mile marker.  He thought the driver might have died. Again, we couldn't find anything about this incident.  If that is the case, our hearts go out to the family.  Not funny.]

We didn't make it to Milwaukee until late and we went straight to bed, for the most part.  As we were checking in, Pearl asked us if we had two rooms or one.  We told her we got one room with two queen beds.  In fact, we tried to do this for the entirety of the trip for a couple of reasons: 1) it's cheaper to get one room, and 2) we didn't feel comfortable thinking that Pearl might wake up in the middle of the night or the morning not sure where she was or what was going on and then panicking.  We weren't sure if the later would happen but we didn't feel right finding out.

When we told her we got one room (didn't tell her the reason), she said, "well, no hanky-panky you two."

Um, Pearl, you can rest assured that having your mother (or mother-in-law) in the next bed is akin to sexual DEET.  You needn't worry about "hanky-panky."

The next morning, Pearl and I went for a walk along Milwaukee's RiverWalk.  Our hotel was just two blocks away so it made for a nice walk.  We were able to take a leisurely stroll along the Milwaukee River and see the downtown area along with some wonderful sculptures as part of a downtown art project - RiverSculpture.  Pearl also got to wrap her arms around The Fonz (he was bronzed).

Pearl and the Fonz

My selfie with the Fonz

Views along the River Walk

Boat going under one of the lift bridges.
Gertie Gets Her Ducks in a Row by Benjamin Rothschild

Cow and Ballerina by Schomer Lichtner
We left Pearl in the hotel room to rest while Jamie and I went out for a walk. I am a tad bothered because I took several others pictures that seem to have disappeared from my camera.    Several of the pictures were taken as we walked through the Milwaukee Historical Society.  They had an exhibit on beer and brewing in Milwaukee - Brew City MKE.  Now, I don't drink beer and could normally care less about beer but it so defines this city that it would be foolish not to take a look.

What an interesting exhibit.  In many ways it reminded me of the tour I did a few years ago in Utica.  Prohibition played a huge role in our history and it's interesting to note that "brewing" still happened during prohibition but in a very different way.  Non-alcoholic beverages were brewed as were "kits" that were given explicit directions that you should not add 1 cup water with 1 cup sugar, stir and then heat (I don't remember the exact directions but it essentially told you how to make alcohol by warning you against it - very clever).  And then once prohibition was repealed, beer was available in no time flat even though it takes quite some time to brew beer.

We also found our way to the German corner (hell, the whole city is German corner and we were okay with that).  There was a restaurant we want to try when we return - we didn't think Pearl would like it - full of German sausages and other delicacies and dishes.  My mouth is watering thinking about it.  We did find a wonderful sausage/deli market and a cheese shop.  Of course we purchased something in each store.  The woman in the sausage store - Usinger's -  apologized that the jerky/sausage we bought was expensive "because everything is hand-made."  Funny, we didn't find it pricey and thought that if this was expensive, we are living the high life!  (It is Miller country.)

At the Wisconsin Cheese Mart we got some curds and some other cheeses to eat on the way as well as a little souvenir cheddar for Pearl - the cheddar cow pictured below.

Love this little cheese cow!  Peel the wax and eat the cheddar. I can't seem to do it, though.

Thankfully, both shops ship so we can always order more.

We left Milwaukee vowing to return.  We were only able to see the city in about four hours which is not enough time and did not do it justice.  I think the RiverWalk was an excellent experience and would welcome staying in the area again when we return.  And you can get here in one day - a pretty long day - but one day.  If anyone would like to share experiences of Milwaukee, please do.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Where's Pearl?

I do plan to talk about the individual places we visited as noted below:

  • Milwaukee (my new favorite city, great small city)
  • Corn Palace (the world's only corn palace)
  • Badlands, SD (one of my new favorite National Parks)
  • Mt. Rushmore and Black Hills, SD (hotter than....well, it was hot)
  • Montana (Glacier National Park, Nevada and Virginia cities - all fabulous)
  • Yellowstone National Park (too crowded for me)
  • Grand Teton National Park (just stunning)
I thought it might be nice to highlight some of the pictures of Pearl.  When we dropped her off at home this past Saturday she said, "I loved every minute of this trip. Where are we going next?"  This trip was very much about her and we were happy to have spent this time with her.  Some of her highlights.....

Pearl with the Fonz in Milwaukee on the River Walk path.

Pearl with 'Corn'elia at the world's only Corn Palace in South Dakota.

Need more be said? In South Dakota

You've got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, when you play cards with Poker Alice.
At Wall Drugs in SD.

At the New York State column at Mt. Rushmore.

Pearl and Jamie in Glacier National Park.

Nevada City just before we boarded the train.

We tried to take a selfie with mom as we sat on the train between Nevada and Virginia cities, MT.
We told her she had to step it up.  This face wasn't going to cut it.

So she did.

In Yellowstone National Park overlooking the canyon.

In Yellowstone National Park overlooking Mammoth Hot Springs.

Rubbing the "beard" of a moose in Grand Teton National Park.
Pearl is normally camera shy.  She never poses for pictures.  I was lucky to have these shots to commemorate the trip.  Also, she was quite bossy ordering me to "take a picture of this," "take a picture of that, Pauline."  I was happy to oblige.