About Me

Tired of the mundane and craving an adventure, on Saturday, May 22nd, 2010, I embarked on the ultimate American road trip through all fifty states. After nearly a year and a half on the road, on a budget of less than 50 bucks a day, this is my story...

Utah - An Outdoor Enthusiast's Paradise


"Utah is unique.  Most of it lies on a plateau higher than 4,000 feet above sea level. The geology of this region takes on an amazing variety of shapes and colors. Elevations rise and fall dramatically in the shape of mountains, buttes, plateaus, and arches."  And the southern half of Utah, my favorite part, is a natural wonderland - nothing short of paradise to the outdoor enthusiast.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010
I arrived in Utah after dark, and hadn't successfully made any sleeping arrangements, so I pulled onto a quiet dirt road off Highway 191 on my way to Canyonlands National Park. 

Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Canyonlands, Utah's largest national park, packs so many reasons to visit into 530 square miles that it's divided into 3 distinct sections, and because of the Green and Colorado rivers that slice it into a Y, there are no roads linking these districts, giving each section its own separate entrance quite far from one another.

This morning I visited the Needles District to the southeast, "which takes its name from its distinctive red and white striped sandstone spires; it's also home to a number of impressive arches, and this is the best section for hiking and camping."  I did the short hike through Cave Spring Trail, which features a historic cowboy camp and prehistoric pictographs, with two ladders to climb.  It was short and sweet :)

Next I visited the nearby Arches National Park - Utah's most famous park, and one of my favorite national parks to date.  "This red, arid desert is 'the most beautiful place on earth,' wrote environmental guru Edward Abbey in Desert Solitaire.  Arches contains the world's largest concentration of natural sandstone arches - preserving over 2,000, like the world-famous Delicate Arch (which is proudly displayed on the state license plate), as well as many other unusual rock formations, such as fins, pinnacles, spires, and balanced rocks.  The extraordinary features of the park create a landscape of contrasting colors, landforms and textures that is unlike any other in the world."  The 18-mile drive was  stunning.  I admired the spectacular formations in awe, with names like Park Avenue, Three Gossips, Windows, and Balanced Rock - "a 3,600-ton boulder that looks as if it could be toppled by a stiff wind."  All of which I viewed with a magnificent backdrop of the snow-capped La Sal Mountains.

Later I visited the "Island in the Sky" district of Canyonlands National Park.  "The Island in the Sky mesa rests on sheer sandstone cliffs over 1,000 feet above the surrounding terrain. Every overlook offers a different perspective on Canyonlands’ spectacular landscape. The Island is the easiest district to visit in a short period of time, offering pullouts with spectacular views along the paved scenic drive."

Over the next several hours I made my way to the small, rural community of New Harmony, just outside Zion National Park, where I met Cade, my couch-surfing host.  He welcomed me into his home, shared his pasta dinner with me, told me about himself (I bet he's the only rancher you'll meet who has ever been a vegetarian!), and showed me to a comfortable guest room. 

Thursday, October 28, 2010
This morning Cade fixed us breakfast, and offered me fresh apples from his tree in the back for the road ahead.

My first stop for the day was at Kolob Canyons - a separate section of Zion National Park, set in New Harmony's backyard.  I drove up the relatively short scenic byway to the Kolob Canyons Viewpoint, which "reveals the cooler, more thickly forested world above the finger canyons.  From this elevated viewpoint you can see the pattern of the canyon-carving streams along cracks in the Colorado Plateau."

About an hour later I arrived in Springdale, and easily hopped onto a free shuttle bus into the main park.  With nearly three million visitors per year, Zion National Park is Utah's most heavily used park.  Therefore, to help preserve its natural wonder, it adopted a shuttle system into and within the park.  Inside the park, the Zion Canyon Shuttle stops at eight locations in the park, from early morning to late evening as often as every seven minutes.

Designated in 1919, Zion is Utah's oldest national park.  It is known for its incredible canyons, including The Narrows, which attract canyoneers from around the world.  The park is a hiker's dream - the possibilities are endless.  "It's hard to believe that it was the pretty little Virgin River that carved these 1,000 foot walls of delicately hued sandstone, some of the largest chunks of rock you've ever seen."  I hiked the Emerald Pools trail, took in a spectacular view from under the trickling waterfall at Weeping Rock (where I also lost my favorite hat, grrr), and strolled along the Riverside Walk at the Temple of Sinawava.  I ended the day with breathtaking views from Canyon Overlook.  On the way out of the park my brakes started screaming out the most foul, high-pitched squealing noise you can imagine - I was made even more embarrassed as the sound was amplified by a hundred through the 1.1 MILE-LONG Zion-Mount Carmel highway.  Time for new brakes!  On a final note, the park is beautiful, and I only saw a portion.  I definitely intend to visit again and hike Angel's Landing and The Narrows.

About 5 1/2 hours later I met Birk, my couch-surfing host, in the Deer Valley area of Park City - the destination of choice for those seeking the country's top-drawer ski experience, and where the U.S. ski and snowboard Olympic teams train.  It's also home to the yearly movie-star-studded Sundance Film Festival.  Birk offered me a beer, shared his hilarious experiences watching famous people try to ski (Paris in her pink pants, LOL), we laughed like crazy people at some shows he put on, and he taught me how to create extra sleep space in my Honda! 

Friday, October 29, 2010
This morning I went into downtown Park City (where scenes from "Dumb and Dumber" were shot!), and checked out a shoe tree.  Yep, a tree of shoes, lol.  I contemplated my contribution, but ultimately declined when I realized I would be without shoes :P







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PHOTO ALBUMS

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Colorado Sun & Snow

Saturday, October 23, 2010
I must have driven through Fort Collins this morning, because I passed the Anheuser-Busch Brewery and could practically taste the free samples, lol.  Around dinner time I arrived at my couch-surfing host Angie's house in Boulder.  She showed me the beautiful downstairs guest room I would be staying in, then prepared a delicious, nutritious dinner, then she helped plan the route for the rest of my trip.

Sunday, October 24, 2010
This morning Angie generously treated me to oatmeal, and sent me off with snacks for the road ahead!  Before leaving Boulder I made sure to take a few photos of the city's iconic rock formations, the Flatirons.  Afterward, I made my way to Glenwood Springs, aka "spa of the Rockies."  There I tried a "cleansing sweat" at the Yampah Spa and Vapor Caves, "the only natural vapor caves in North America.  Mineral hot springs keep the three caves at 115 degrees and 100 percent humidity year-round."  Now let me preface this by saying that Angie told me to skip this place; that it was kind of seedy.  And let me tell you, it felt unusual to walk into what looked like an ordinary salon, only to get into swim trunks and walk down into hot, dark caves, lol.  And the staff doesn't lead you down there, either.  You explore it yourself, which I suppose can be considered part of the fun.  The caves themselves were, well, caves, lol.  It wasn't busy, so there was plenty of space.  There wasn't much lighting, and it definitely smelled like a sauna, haha, but it was an interesting experience nonetheless.  As their website states, "The Vapor Caves consist of three adjoining underground rock chambers. Visitors descend a stairway inside the main building and pass through a stone corridor into the caves.  Relax on slab marble benches in the rocky alcoves, and inhale the natural steam vapor in the warm, dimly lit cave chambers."  I could easily envision the salon closing at 5pm and reopening in the middle of the night for cult gathering, lol.

After witnessing the sacrificial offering of a virgin at the vapor caves, lol, I moseyed next door to the town's main hot springs pool, "which the town claims that at 405 by 100 feet, is the largest in the world!  Spanning over two city blocks, it holds 1,071,000 gallons of water maintained at 90 degrees." There's also a smaller pool (hot tub) kept at 104 degrees.  It was a lot of fun for the child in me, and also offered a unique, partially submerged sitting area with hoses acting as jets that for 50 cents, one could create a jetted hot tub experience for their seat.

After seeing a movie I drove to the nearby town of New Castle, where I met Marilyn, my couch-surfing host.  She welcomed me into her cozy, rustic, cabin style home, introduced me to her dog, and showed me to my guest room.  We chatted a little bit before heading to bed.  The warmth of the wood-burning stove had me sleeping like a baby through the cold night.

Monday, October 25, 2010
I left New Castle, not knowing what challenges I faced ahead.  The next couple of hours I was met with the biggest snowstorm of the year - well, Colorado's first snowstorm of the season at least.  What began as a snowflake here and there, turned into a massive downpour with near-zero visibility.  Did I mention I was driving in the middle of the mountains?  Yep!  The cars began piling up, literally, as I saw one after another in the ditch, being salvaged out by tow-trucks.  With determination (and my car in first gear), I tried to get ahead of the storm.  Luckily I was following behind a heavy truck, and I kept myself out of the ditch by staying in his tracks.  Even still, my little Honda Civic became less and less effective against the storm, as I climbed up the Rockies with near zero-visibility.  I began saying my prayers as my car barely crawled up the pass through 14,433 foot Mount Albert- the highest peak in the Rockie Mountains!  Miraculously I made it up and down, and headed south ahead of the storm.  

After finding a gas station and scraping off the layers of ice from my windshield, I was hungry and needed to relax my nerves.  I made it to the General Store in the blink-and-you'll-miss-it "town" of Villa Grove - a place Marilyn recommended would be a good pit stop along my route.  After a slice of "homemade" coconut cream pie I made my way to the Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve - at up to 750 feet, they're the tallest in North America, which is odd, considering they're a thousand miles away from the ocean.  The snowstorm was catching up to me as I reached the visitor center, and I sighed.  I tried to be patient as the people ahead of me were asking the ranger every question possible about the dunes.  Meanwhile, the snow outside became more and more heavy.  I finally received a map of the park, and got back into my car as fast as I could.  Alas, when I reached the trail-head to the dunes I could barely make out the snow-covered outlines through the storm.  I spotted a group of kids at the base of the dunes carrying a sled!  Oh, why couldn't I have thought of that?!  Not having the proper attire, I had no choice but to head back to the car.  I drove to a nearby nature trail where I could at least spend a little bit of time in the place I drove several hundreds of miles to get to.


I made it out of the blizzard, and before long I was enjoying a sunny drive through the beautiful scenery on my way to the youthful mountain town of Durango.  The landscape was spectacular, and I couldn't help but pull off the road and take in all the majesty of the peaks, valleys, and waterfalls of the San Juan Mountains.



Before nightfall I arrived at Zach's - my couch-surfing host.  It was a very casual atmosphere, and he told me I could come and go as I pleased.  He introduced me to his cool friends that popped over, and he let me catch up on phone calls and emails, while him and his buddy played guitar.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Today I visited Mesa Verde National Park, which "offers a spectacular look into the lives of the Ancestral Pueblo people who made it their home for over 700 years, from A.D. 600 to A.D. 1300. Today, the park protects over 4,000 known archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings. These sites are some of the most notable and best preserved in the United States."  After getting my ticket at the Visitor Center and checking out one of the pit-houses (covered dwellings built partially below ground), I went on the one-hour, ranger-guided tour of Cliff Palace - the crown jewel of the park, boasting around 150 rooms occupied by an estimated 100 people at its peak.  I could not believe my eyes; it was one of the most remarkable things I've ever seen in my life.


After the tour, I drove the 6-mile Mesa Top Loop Road, which showcases a number of pit-houses and overlooks of cliff dwellings.  Then I took a self-guided walking tour of Spruce Tree House, the best-preserved cliff dwelling, with 130 rooms and 8 kivas (a "ceremonial room" serving a variety of different purposes such as preparing food and making tools).  Before heading out I explored the museum, which showcases many recovered artifacts from the area.



I was able to visit nearby Four Corners Monument before dark.  It marks the point at which Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah meet.  I had a good time exchanging cameras with other tourists who engaged in some SSS - Simultaneous State-Straddling (oh behave!).


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Wyoming

Thursday, October 21, 2010
At around noon I arrived at Yellowstone National Park, entering the park from Gardiner, Montana.  Woo-hoo!  "Established in 1872, it's the world's oldest and perhaps most famous national park, known worldwide for its geysers and geothermal pools.  Yellowstone crosses volcanic plateaus and heavily forested peaks, containing 2.2 million acres of steaming hot springs, crystalline lakes, and thundering waterfalls."  This was my favorite national park yet!  Within 5 minutes of entering the park I saw a bighorn sheep meandering right alongside the park road!  At the advice of several Wyomingites I visited "Boiling River," which was awesome.  It's where a hot spring cascades into Gardiner River, creating a very unusual, very relaxing outdoor spa experience.  You just find yourself a spot that's the perfect temperature for your liking and enjoy :)  Moving on, I saw several families of elk right up close, relaxing between the buildings of the park headquarters.  There was also a curious [or hungry?] coyote.  

At the Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces I viewed a spectacular series of natural travertine limestone platforms, created when hot water ascends through the ancient limestone deposits.  "The water trickles over the edges from one to another, blending them together with the effect of a frozen waterfall."  Next I visited the Norris Geyser Basin - the "hottest, oldest, and most changeable of Yellowstone's thermal areas.  Here, "water accumulates underground, and is heated by Yellowstone Volcano.  The water travels upward to erupt from acidic geysers, rise from steaming fumaroles, and simmer in shimmering pools."  On my way to Lamar Valley I was stopped by buffalo in the road, lol.  In Lamar Valley I saw my first-ever wolf!  It was a beautiful gray wolf, sitting alert in the near distance.  Cool!  I ended the evening with a bang - Old Faithful geyser.  Of course, I found out from the ranger at the visitor center that it had just erupted a few minutes ago.  *Sigh.  Luckily, it erupted again just before dark, and I was able to witness it in all its glory!

In the evening I drove an hour west to the nearby town of Cody, named after legendary William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody.  I met with Patricia, my couch-surfing host.  She introduced me to her family (dog and horses), we got acquainted, and she showed me to my bed - which was in her super nice camper, which I had all to myself!  It had been a while since I had a bed to sleep on; I slept like a rock:) 

Friday, October 22, 2010
After breakfast (thanks for the eggs, Patricia!) I went back to Yellowstone via the Buffalo Bill Cody Scenic Byway which follows the North Fork Shoshone River through a landscape of spires and cliffs, pine forests and sagebrush, ranches and horses.

Once back inside Yellowstone, I spotted a grizzly bear grazing and rolling around in one of the wooded valleys!  It was incredible - and it didn't slice my face off, hooray!  Continuing on my way I saw a mud volcano, sulphur caldron, coyotes, bison, trumpeter swans, waterfalls, and "The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone."  This place is AWESOME.

Sharing the southern border of Yellowstone is Grand Teton National Park.  "Craggy, glacier chiseled, and rising up to 7,000-plus feet above the floor of Wyoming's Jackson Hole Valley.the dramatic peaks of Grand Teton National Park win America's topographical beauty pageant as the most photogenic of them all."  Apart from the scenery - think reflections of majestic mountains reflecting off beautiful, sapphire blue lakes - just above the southern boundary of the park I had my first-ever sighting of wild moose!  I saw not just one, but two!
 After the amazing evening of moose-watching, I drove to the nearby trendy town of Jackson.  "While the scenic 48-mile-long Jackson Hole ("hole" is what settlers called a high, enclosed mountain valley) fills with trophy homes and gated communities for celebrities and rich residents, Jackson itself retains a spirited Western character and encourages an egalitarian mix of ski bums, the moneyed elite, gung ho hikers and climbers, and even a real Wyoming cowboy or two.  Jackson's ground zero is Town Square, a small, tree-lined park with four entry arches made from thousands of shed elk antlers.  Surrounding the square are many of Jackson's top bars, restaurants boutiques, and dozens of art galleries."  

I explored the area of town square, and after refusing to pay a cover charge at Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, found myself very comfortable and amused within the loud, lively scene of Silver Dollar Bar and Grill in the historic Wort Hotel, which boasts 2,032 silver dollars embedded in the bar counter-top!  I immersed myself in the exciting atmosphere and delicious, contemporary cuisine, watching as couples made a dance floor to shuffle their boots to the entertaining live country music.  When it was time to turn in for the night I found a dark, quiet parking area of a small townhouse complex to get some rest.

Saturday, October 23, 2010
This morning I picked up a big, gooey brownie when I stopped for gas.  This is perhaps the most nutritionally-void breakfast I've had on the trip thus far, but hey, at least I'm breaking personal records, lol.  On an even more exciting note, lol, before leaving Wyoming I made a pit stop at an Abraham Lincoln monument, commemorating the Lincoln Highway, America's first transcontinental highway, which runs from New York to San Francisco.


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Montana: From Glaciers to Hot Springs

Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Coming back to the U.S. was easy!  The pleasant customs agent at the drive-thru window asked me a couple questions, then I was on my way - she even told me the fastest way to get to my destination!

I entered Glacier National Park from the East entrance at St. Mary Visitor Center.  No one was there since it was the off-season.  I helped myself to a map and was on my way.  "The park boasts one of the most spectacular mountain drives, the Going-to-the-Sun Road.  The 3-hour route roughly bisects the 2-million-acre wilderness, climbing from lake basins to the summit of the Continental Divide at 6,646-foot Logan Pass (the highlight of the trip, with fragile alpine meadows unfolding below the sharp-toothed crags), passing as many as a thousand seasonal waterfalls among the dense evergreen forests along the way."  Doesn't that sound incredible?  Unfortunately the middle of the park was undergoing road construction, so I could only get to a certain point and then turn around and head back, preventing me from driving all the way through and seeing Logan's Pass :(  What I did see was beautiful though, and I just tell myself that I saved something for next time I visit.  St. Mary Lake was a gem, and it was my first time ever seeing glaciers, which was major, since it might be the last time I get to see 'em.  Today's visitors see only 25% of the ice that existed back in 1850, and experts project ALL of the park's glaciers will be gone by 2030.  Of the park's estimated 150 glaciers that existed in 1850, only 26 are left!


I exited the park at about 6:30pm, so I could get to town before nightfall.  Though I didn't get to drive all the way through the park, the winding route on the back-roads was a lot of fun, and offered breathtaking scenery.  I called my friend Jenny and told her I was almost to her small hometown of Whitefish!  It was great seeing the town where she grew up, and I wish I could have seen her childhood home, but it didn't work out with her folks out of town and hectic schedules and such.  Whitefish is a cozy little ski resort area with log cabin motels and fun hole-in-the-wall bars, nestled below the backdrop of huge, green mountains.  It was quite a fiasco trying to arrange a last-minute couch-surfing accommodation; I ended up making myself comfortable in the car, instead.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010
This morning I headed back out to Glacier National Park, this time from the entrance at West Glacier.  Watching the fog lifting off Lake McDonald from the lodge was so soothing.  I made my way as far as I could go, and had to turn back at Avalanche Creek due to construction.

I took a beautiful drive to Wise River - aka "Big Hole," in the state's southwest corner, "one of the state's most beautiful valleys - a 6,000-foot-elevation- prairie basin, where old-time cattle ranches dot the range."  It was the wide open, relaxed Montana I had pictured.    

I was on my way down to Livingston when I got pulled over for speeding.  The police officer was remarkably kind and social for a cop, and even chatted with me about my travels for a bit!  Of course, that didn't get me out of the ticket.  He did, however, mark me down from 11 miles over the limit down to 10, which brought the cost of the fine down to $20.  You heard me - only twenty bucks!  He said that until 1990 there wasn't even a speed limit in Montana, but the federal government stepped in and said they wouldn't give Montana any more money if they didn't implement speeding laws.  As the officer told me, I'll "just pay it and think of it as a souvenir," lol.

I arrived at Rhonda my couch-surfing host's home much later than I had anticipated; probably around 10:30pm.  She's a kind, fun, freelance photographer.  Her and her boyfriend and I had a great time getting acquainted, and I learned that scenes from the movie, "A River Runs Through It" were shot here in Livingston, and that Jeff Bridges lives here - in fact, his band performs at local bars.  And they told me that Jeff is very laid back, and that Jeff has actually said the movie role he never had to do any acting for (because he's just like the character) is "The Big Lebowski."  SWEET!  Oh, and I must mention I found Rhonda's obese cat very notable also.

Thursday, October 21, 2010
This morning I took a dip in the natural mineral hot springs pool at Chico Hot Springs Resort in the town of Pray.  Rhonda gave me a token to get in for free - swell!  The 96 degree water felt fantastic, and the people-watching was good.  Actually a nosy little girl approached me and asked why I wasn't swimming with the group.  There was a water-aerobics class being conducted at the same time, and I could tell from simple observation she was the instructor's daughter.  Apparently it's her job to "rally the troops."  I told her to piss off.  Just kidding!  But really, I wanted to  :)

*To view my photos for this entry, click HERE.

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Canada, eh?

Of course no cross-country trip around the U.S. is complete without a visit to Canada, right?  Exactly, haha.  Actually, when I was in South Dakota I met a couple of fun Canadians who in the stupor of insane hilarity at a diner in the town of Wall, invited me up to their "Fall Supper Social" at the hall in the small community of Broad Valley, Manitoba.

Saturday, October 16, 2010
Excited for more laughs and authentic Ukrainian food, I cheerfully arrived at the Canadian border, one step closer to my new friends.  I approached what looked like a drive-thru window, lol, and answered a line of questions about where I was going, and apparently I didn't pass the test, because the dude with his African-meets-British accent told me to park and go inside.  Inside I spoke with a guy who asked me the exact same line of questions; my truthful answers the exact same as last time.  He wasn't satisfied, so he had me sit and wait for someone at the immigration window.  Yep, that's right - immigration, lol.  This guy, like the others, was cold and abrasive, and started souring my perception of Canadians.  This was now my third time answering the exact same line of questions.  He actually had me wait again while he went in back to try and check if what I was telling him was true.  He came back and said "It's called Fall Supper, not Fall Harvest Supper," as I had previously misspoke.  Wow, you really broke the case, sir.  Even so, he had already made up his mind that I was a drug-smuggling liar, so he actually introduced me with customs guy number FOUR, who followed me out to my car, and instructed me to wait 10 feet from the car, and watch him over the course of the next 20 minutes inspect all the items in my car, one by one, including the photos on my camera and my address book!  It was cold outside and I was losing my patience as I witnessed this goon let my loose papers of addresses get taken away with the wind.  Offended, I said, "Umm, an important paper just blew out of there."  "Go get it," he smugly retorted.  I carefully ran across the wide pavement to retrieve the important paper this bastard let fly away.  After returning, the buffoon proved his stupidity by asking me why I had so much stuff.  "Like I already said, I'm on a long road-trip through the U.S."  Lacking evidence to support their presumption that I was a thug about to run rampant through the streets Manitoba, he told me I could go.  Biting my tongue, I got in my car and continued onward.  I wanted so badly just to turn around and say "Screw Canada" (giving customs a little "constructive criticism" on the way.  I felt violated and ashamed, and some tears began to well up, yet I hadn't done anything wrong.  I told myself to not be such a baby, to not let it get the best of me, and to remember I was on my way to reunite with friends.  I do have to admit though, that when the cheery Keebler kid (he looked like an elf) tried pumping my gas, it felt good telling him to piss off (of course I didn't use those words).

The night that followed was great.  After catching up with my new friends at their lovely farmhouse, and laughing off the ridiculous mess about my experience at customs, we hopped into their truck and went to the Fall Supper.  We stepped inside the hall, purchased drink tickets, and were off to the races.  The atmosphere was down-home and festive.  They introduced me to their friends, and I watched as the townsfolk reacquainted.  Dinner was awesome.  There was plenty to choose from on the buffet tables, and I got to try some new things.  After dinner the celebration poured onto the dance floor.  Line dancing and the simple two-step were the popular dances of choice.  After we had our fill we continued the party at a Adam & Meghan's friends' house for more debauchery.

Sunday, October 17, 2010
This morning Adam & Meghan introduced me to my first Canadian soap opera, haha.  It was as cheesy as the American ones, so I had a good laugh, though Meghan was really into it, and I hope I didn't offend her.  Later in the day I was bucked off a horse!  Geez, for a cute, little name like"Raisin" that horse has some spunk!  A bit on the skittish side, she took off after being spooked by something in the woods.  I was okay, and for my first time ever being bucked off, it wasn't too bad.  Let's do it again someday!  After returning Raisin & Sunny to their pen, Adam made a campfire, and we got to know each other more, and to be honest, the conversation got a little heated.  The three of us cooked up some hot dogs over the fire, and had a good time :)  Later, Meghan whipped up a delicious berry pie-type dessert.  YUM.


Monday, October 18, 2010
Meghan gave me the grand tour of their successful seed plant across the road this morning.  She showed me how they get sorted and processed, and led me around the equipment yard, and bee farm apparatus, then we said our goodbyes.  I hope we see each other again one day.  Maybe in Minnesota?  They go down about once a year to the stores they don't have in Manitoba.

Just a few miles away are the Narcisse Snake Dens - the winter home of tens of thousands of Red-sided Garter Snakes, and is the largest concentration of snakes in the world!  I've been fascinated with snakes since I was a kid, so this place was a must-see.  Though most of the snakes were down in the pits preparing to hibernate, I still saw a good number of them while walking the trail and viewing the four dens.  I'd love to check this place out during mating season when the snakes wrap themselves into big balls.  Big balls.  That's fun to type.  Making my way through Winnipeg I stopped to take a few snapshots of the unusual churches.  When night fell I camped it at a large, secluded picnic area off the highway. 


Tuesday, October 19, 2010 
This morning I couldn't help but notice the cool shadow my car cast onto the landscape off the road, and had to take advantage of the photo opportunity - I ended up using one of the photos for the revamp of this blog!  Sweet silhouettes aside, I made one of the most fantastic discoveries that Canada has to offer yet:  Ketchup chips!  These bold, savory baked potato chips by Old Dutch are a new-found joy in life.  Find them, savor them, love them.  Good god they're delicious.  First windmills, now ketchup chips.  Take it from me, the Dutch know what they're doing, people.  This day only got better.  Yes, I'm talking about Pinto Macbean: The official mascot of Bow Island, "signifying the importance of the dry edible bean industry to the area."  He became erect in 1992.  And I'm very happy with that.


Now comes the story of the rudest person I've ever met - and no, I'm not talking about a Canadian customs agent.  I'm pulling into a gas station which has two pumps, each with two dispensers, for a total of four dispensers.  There was no one else at the pumps.  I pull up to one side of the pumps, and as I'm filling my tank a man in a nice, black car pulls up directly behind me, and sits in his car, apparently prepared to wait for me to finish.  Mind you, there is an available pump he can access if he would just pull to the other side.  The pumps were not pay-pumps, so one must pay inside.  I went inside, used the bathroom (just #1 - this is relevant to the story, lol), and payed the clerk.  Just as I walk outside, the man whose car was still sitting directly behind mine (aka "Moron") is on his way up to the door I'm walking out of.  He sees me, then turns around to walk back to his car, and as he's walking back to his car he says "Get your car out of here, I've been waiting."  I said, "Excuse me?"  He says "I've been sitting here long enough.  Get outta here."  I say "Ya know, there's another pump right here.  You could have just pulled your car to that side."  Then Moron tells me to "Get the hell out."  Flabbergasted, I say "I'll move when I feel like it."  I pulled away from the the pump to let Moron get his way, and parked on the side of the gas station to check my GPS.  Moron, who behaved like he was in some kind of hurry to get the president to safety or something, parks next to me after getting his gas, and goes into the gas station.  Was Moron trying to tell me through his stupidity that this is the Canadian way of getting gas?  You're supposed to park away from the pump before paying inside?  "Interesting."  Of course by "interesting" I mean absurd.


Before returning to the U.S., I explored Waterton Lakes National Park of Canada - a beautiful area preserving the Waterton chain of lakes and the Canadian Rockies, which sits above Montana's Glacier National Park.

 
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BIG Things in North Dakota

Monday, October 11, 2010
This afternoon I arrived at Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  This 70,000 acres is the "badlands of North Dakota, with sandstone formations that grade all the way from those that are almost rolling in character to those that are so fantastically broken in form and so bizarre in color as to seem hardly properly to belong to this earth." I visited the South Unit, starting with "Painted Canyon," for one of the most magnificent views of the Badlands.  Then I followed the 36-mile loop drive, a paved drive with the usual interpretive signs which explain the park's historical and natural features.  The drive starts with an overlook of Medora, a historic town founded in 1883 by French nobleman, the Marquis de Mores, who arrived with his wife after the Badlands Cantonment military camp was abandoned by George Custer's men.  The small town of Medora has still kept its old west atmosphere somewhat intact, with wooden planked sidewalks, old-fashioned ice cream parlors, and buggy rides.  Of course because I arrived in the off-season, and in addition to being a weekday, I wasn't able to experience the full flair of the town as I would have had I arrived in the summertime, although I was able to appreciate some of the architecture and the general feel.

Following the Medora Lookout was the Skyline Vista, River Woodland lookout, several "Prairie Dog Towns (adorable!)," Wind Canyon Trail (a short .3 mile hike up a ridge overlooking the Little Missouri River and canyon), Boicourt Overlook (one of the best views of the badlands), Buck Hill, North Dakota Badlands Overlook, Ridgeline Trail, and Scoria Point Overlook.

It was a beautiful drive, offering ample opportunities for wildlife sightings and viewing spectacular geological formations.  On the drive I saw several bison grazing - sometimes so close I could nearly reach out and touch them, along with countless prairie dogs popping their curious little heads out and scurrying across the grasslands, herds of handsome wild horses, white-tailed deer, and on the way out my first-ever elk sighting - a whole family!

Afterward, I grabbed some din-din at Knotty Pine Peanut Bar in Medora.  The staff, patrons, food and ambiance were all great.  I chatted it up with Renato from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, who had just finished working the summer season at the  horse ranch in the park, then I camped the night at Cottonwood campground inside the park.

Tuesday, October 11, 2010
This morning I took to "Enchanted Highway" - 32 miles of highway from Gladstone to Regent, lined with the "World's Largest Metal Sculptures" (with the Guinness World Records certificate to prove it) from grasshoppers to tin men, erected by metal artist Gary Greff.  A small town man with big world dreams, Gary, a former teacher and school principal, "had never done any art work or welding prior to 1989.  He then began dreaming of ways to bring people and businesses to the small community of Regent -- fearing the town would someday die if it relied solely on farming.  A hay bale strongman built by a farmer inspired him.  He watched people pull off the road to snap photos of the oddity, and he wondered how many people would stop for huge metal sculptures.  So, he began designing, welding, and painting, and in 1991 "The Tin Family" was erected."  A labyrinth, a gift shop, and several sculptures later, Gary still offers his oddball roadside attraction to the public with a big smile on his face and FREE of charge.  Get this:  Gary (who is not a wealthy man by any means) depends solely on donations to build and maintain his work.  He's currently working on the "World's Largest Motorcycle" for placement in Sturgis, South Dakota, home of the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, one of the biggest motorcycle rallies in the country.

While attempting to take a photo of myself with the giant grasshoppers, my camera dropped to the ground, damaging the lens, thus rendering it useless.  "Noooooo!!!"  Frantically flipping through my receipts, I found the right one and was thrilled to find that today was in fact my lucky day.  Today was the LAST day on the 90-day return policy!!!  I immediately removed my memory card and packaged the camera back up along with all the accessories in the original box and got my ass to the nearest location for an exchange.  And, as fate would have it, the camera I was exchanging had dropped in price since first purchasing it, so I was able to upgrade to the newer, better model for an even exchange!!!  WOO-HOO!  I was back on the road, er...I mean the Enchanted Highway in no time.  The grasshoppers were still there, heh heh, and I was able to get the photos I wanted and continue down the highway.  I happily had lunch inside the boat-made-fort at the "Fisherman's Dream" sculpture grounds.  Later I made a new friend at the "Theodore Roosevelt Rides Again" sculpture, and she and I exchanged turns taking fun photos the rest of the way.

A couple days later I returned to the Enchanted Highway Gift Shop and met the man behind the art, Gary Greff, who was happy to spare a few minutes for a fan :)  Heck, by the end of our conversation he even offered me a job, stating that at the end of my trip he'd love for me to come work for him in any capacity - even working as his apprentice!  There would be other opportunities to choose from as well.  He's planning to open a motel, RV park, dinner theatre, and cafe, and he needs the help.  This place can't operate on its own, and Regent doesn't have a lot resources.  If you want to be a part of something BIG, he'd be thrilled to hear from you!!!  PO Box 184 * Regent, ND 58650 * 701-563-6400 * enchantedhighway@yahoo.com

Like I said, there is no charge to see The Enchanted Highway.  Gary depends solely on donations to finance the project.  Wanna do some good?  Click HERE to go to a web page where you can make a PayPal donation to The Enchanted Highway.

After purchasing my Enchanted Highway t-shirt (the first souvenir of my trip) I visited Sue, "The World's Largest Holstein Cow."  At 38 feet tall and 50 feet long, Sue weighs in at 12,000 pounds!  Of course, I have no "beef" with that, because she's a milk cow, hardy har har...*sigh*  I wasn't Sue's only visitor that day, and I even got a few snapshots with some friendly folks (we each grabbed a boob - oh how silly).  Well after visiting Sue, other sculptures got jealous, so it wasn't long before I was shaking hands with Sandy, "The World's Largest Sandhill Crane," (a bit stuck up), marking my territory on the home of the "World's Largest Buffalo" (its got balls), and spotting "White Cloud" - the legendary white buffalo in Jamestown.

Upon my arrival in Bismarck, Ryan, my CouchSurfing host, whipped up a delicious, spicy shrimp pasta dish and took me out to live music to welcome me to town.  We got along well, and had a lot of laughs over some beers and great music.  The next few days were equally fun.  He took me to an open mic variety show night (I'll never forget the hilarious, angry poem from a disgruntled ex-Walmart employee!) and in five minutes taught me how to play the Jaw Harp, one of the oldest musical instruments in the world.  I look forward to checking in with Ryan later on down the road, and seeing photos of his latest ice igloo (a winter pastime of his).

Friday, October 15, 2010
Tonight I stayed with CouchSurfing host Jem (pronounced YEM) in Fargo.  Just as I arrived he surprised me with an incredible home-made Indian dinner!  Afterward, he showed me the popular sites of downtown Fargo, and we went out for a great night of karaoke.  Jem can really belt it!  Seriously Jem, I hear American Idol calling.

Saturday, October 16, 2010
This morning on my way up to Canada (I'm making the trip to spend the weekend with my new friends I met in South Dakota) I stopped at the KVLY television tower - the second tallest structure in the world!  Its height above mean sea level is 3,038 ft, making it the first man made structure to exceed 2,000 feet in height, upon the completion of its construction on August 13, 1963.  I left after nearly breaking my neck staring up at the darn thing, lol.

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PHOTO/VIDEO ALBUMS

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Here's a creepy clip from the wacky Enchanted Highway:
 

video


So Much to See in South Dakota!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010
This evening I was stopped by buffalo in the middle of the  highway!  The highway goes through beautiful Custer State Park, a preserve to many wild animals; in fact within a span of ten minutes of my close encounter with the buffalo, I nearly hit a badger and came within a few feet of white-tailed deer and pronghorn antelope!  What a wonderful (and terrifying) way to enter a new state!

Thursday, October 7, 2010
On my way to The Badlands this morning, I stopped to help out a hitchhiker.  Her name is Adele, and she was on her way home from Rapid City (where I stayed the night).  As we drove I asked her a gazillion questions about the Native American culture and religion, and she was obliged to educate me.  She lived less than an hour away, so I decided to take a little detour and and take her there.  We entered the town of Kyle on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in Shannon County - the second poorest county in the United States.  As we got into town, Adele told me that movie star Angelina Jolie visited, and pointed to where she put up a shelter for battered women.  Go Angelina!  We got close to her house and I noticed the driveways were dirt, and the roads were old and broken.  I saw campers and trailers with outhouses, and houses that looked condemned all boarded up, but in fact weren't condemned at all.  These were homes where families lived.  As we neared her house I learned that a couple "friends" of hers stabbed her uncle to death, because he refused to share his beer, and she pointed out the drug-dealer's house, where many times her 10 year-old brother returns from with blood-shot eyes.  As we pulled into her driveway I asked about her dog lying outside with patches of hair missing.  I discovered he has cancer.

I gave my information to Adele, and headed out of town, noticing the grade schools and colleges in the little trailers, and run-down buildings.  I tried to process what I had just seen.  I was reminded I should never take "little things" like indoor plumbing and growing up in a safe neighborhood for granted.  These are luxuries for many people.  Everything is relative.  I am rich.  I thanked life for running into Adele, and showing me these things.  This was an experience I should carry with me.


I entered Badlands National Park and stopped at the visitor center to grab a map of the 31-mile Badlands loop.  "Sculpted by 75 million years of sedimentation and erosion, 243,000 acres are crammed full of cones, ridges, buttes, gorges, gulches, pinnacles, and precipices in an eerily sparse yet breathtakingly beautiful landscape.  Some formations rise more than 1,000 feet into the sky, while in other places the forces of erosion have, over thousands of years, brushed away the surface to reveal stratified mineral deposits, weaving through the ridges and ravines like nature's brushstrokes, blended with the largest, protected mixed grass prairie in the United States. Ancient mammals such as the rhino, horse, and saber-toothed cat once roamed here.  Over 11,000 years of human history pale to the ages old Paleontological resources.  Badlands National Park contains the world's richest Oligocene epoch fossil beds, dating 23 to 35 million years old."

The first stop along the scenic drive is "Fossil Exhibit Trail," where I walked a quarter-mile trail with exhibits of fossil remnants.  I loved the sign reading "Beware of Rattlesnakes."  That always makes things interesting, lol.  Following the trail is 10 overlooks (3 more if you venture off the paved main road), showcasing the brilliant formations, with names such as Bigfoot Pass, Burns Basin, and Yellow Mounds.  


It was at the very last overlook that I complimented a young couple on the old-school camper they were towing.  They were around my age and we got to chatting and discovered we were going to the same place - Wall Drug!  They handed me their brochure to glance over on the short drive over.  About 20 minutes later, Adam was taking photos of me with the scandalous life-size statues, I helped myself to their world-famous "FREE ICE WATER," and the 3 of us explored "The World's Largest Drug Store," which takes up over a block, and we checked out "The Backyard Emporium," including a 6-foot tall 
Jackelope, a T-Rex, and a life-size diorama of Wild Bill Hickok's "dead man's hand."



We grabbed some dinner across the street at Cactus Cafe, where a little din-din turned into an all out laugh-fiesta.  Between our uber-relaxed pot-head server, lol, the Mammoth-sized beers (I got one more ounce than Adam - ha ha Adam), my super wet place-mat, and Adam and Meghan's awesome, nothing's-taboo sense of humor, it's a dinner to be remembered.  They even invited me to their town to join in the festivities of the Fall Supper, a feast of traditional Ukrainian food and polka music, celebrating the Vikings!  I'm totally going to make the trip in a week (assuming my dad mails me my passport in time)!

We just happened to stop for gas in Rapid City, at "LaGrand Station," which contains a "Call of the Wild" exhibit, where the owner, boasting that he killed every one of them, has the audacity to display a variety of exotic animals, including ones on the ENDANGERED SPECIES list!!!  Can you believe that?!  Appalled and disgusted, we walked right past the stuffed monkey with arms outstretched, holding a hat for donations.

We set up camp for the night at beautiful Custer State Park, at the Game Lodge Campground, nestled in a valley hugged by granite mountains, and home to an abundance of wildlife, including one of the largest publicly-owned, free-roaming buffalo herds in the world.  Adam talked his way into some wood from a neighbor and built us a fire, while Meghan broke out the food for smores.  I love camping!!!


Friday, October 8, 2010
I awoke to good news, as I learned that Adam and Meghan had decided to stay an extra night.  We took our time getting ready for the day, and admired the beauty of the land - including the buffalo grazing at our camp!  Meghan made pancakes and Adam secured us a spot for another night.  We took Iron Mountain Road to Rushmore, "A road they said couldn't be built.  But Peter Norbeck didn't listen.  He patiently mapped out a route - on foot and horseback - that captured the splendor of these ancient mountains.  Today, Iron Mountain Road is part of the Peter Norbeck National Scenic Byway, featuring three granite tunnels that frame Mount Rushmore perfectly in the distance," and as we stopped to take in the views, we spotted some chopped wood that would serve great for the nightly fire =)





"For the generation that saw it born, Mount Rushmore was a symbol of American optimism after the triumph of WWII.  For many who grew up in the 50's and 60's, it became a symbol of the family road trip.  And for American Indians of any generation, it's a complicated symbol of broken treaties and loss.  Though America hailed the great achievement of Danish-American sculptor Gutzon Borglum, it came as a slap in the face to South Dakota's Lakota people, to whom Paha Sapa (The Black Hills) was a sacred place that figured prominently in their creation stories.  An 1868 treaty deeded the land to the Sioux "in perpetuity," but their ownership lasted only 6 years.  When gold was discovered in the area, the U.S. government reclaimed the land.  In 1876, when the government ordered all the Lakota bands onto reservations, the great chiefs Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, and Gall organized a resistance that eventually destroyed the Seventh Calvary in General George Custer's Last Stand at the Little Bighorn.  But the Sioux's victory was short-lived.  In less than two years Crazy Horse was dead (he was killed while resisting imprisonment at Camp Robinson in present-day Nebraska, a place I'll visit later), and their fate was sealed."

"In 1939, as the faces of the residents were emerging from the granite, the Sioux began planing their own memorial inviting Boston-born sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski to carve the image of Crazy Horse into another Black Hills mountain, 17 miles southwest of Rushmore.  Work finally began in 1947 on Ziolkowski's grand vision:  Unlike the sculptures at Rushmore, which are carved onto just one side of a peak, Crazy Horse would be sculpted into the round, the great chief sitting astride on a horse, arm outstretched.  The memorial would also be massive, measuring 563 feet high and 641 feet long, utterly dwarfing Rushmore.  (His arm alone is longer than a football field.)  Such a thing takes time and effort.  Following his death in 1982, Ziolkowski's family has carried on with the work (his wife and 7 of their 10 children).  Today, with several million tons of rock blasted away from the mountain, Crazy Horse's head, arm, and the top of his horse's head are in various states of completion.  A final completion date is impossible to predict, but, as the project's motto says, "Never forget your dreams."

When we got back to camp we were dazzled by a golden glow of light, suddenly casting itself on the camp.  We looked up and admired the most brilliant sunset of orange and pink.  We snapped some photos before it faded, and Adam made a big fire, and him and Meghan cooked up a spectacular fish dinner.  Canadians know how to camp!  We spent the next few hours enjoying great food, conversation, and new-found friendship =)

Saturday, October 9, 2010
Adam kindly provided me a bowl of cereal, as him and Meghan began packing up for their long drive back to Manitoba. 
All set with directions to their place, and excited to see them in a week for the Fall Supper, I wished my new friends safe travels back.

After getting all packed and reorganized myself, I drove the 18-mile Wildlife Loop, which passes through grasslands and rolling hills, where I saw pronghorn antelope, bison young and old, white-tailed deer, prairie dogs, AND got up close and personal with some very friendly donkeys - the most wonderful animal encounter I've had yet!

 
 Next I took to Needles Highway, a 14-mile Black Hills scenic route on Highway 87, winding its way through hairpin and narrow granite tunnels.  "The name 'Needles' comes from the slender granite peaks that charactize the area."  I took in amazing views of the Cathedral Spires, a series of pinnacles resembling church spires, and the Needles Eye, a granite formation which mimics the eye of a needle.  I even spotted a Bighorn Sheep, straddling the side of a distant mountain!

It was around 7pm when I arrived at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center in Rapid City to observe the 24th Annual Black Hills Pow Wow, "Celebrating Unity and Reconciliation."  A Pow Wow as it's known today, is a celebration in which Native Americans come together to celebrate their heritage in music, dance, and prayer, in multi-colored costumes of feathers and beadwork (or metal cones if you're a jingle dancer).  In addition to the powwow, spectators have the opportunity to enjoy a fine arts show, style show, scholarship pageant, wellness symposium for youth, and tournaments for hand games, softball, golf, and archery.  It's not uncommon for the Pow Wows to run behind, and tonight was no exception.  It was running hours behind, and last night for example, it ended at 1am (scheduled to end at 11pm), but it didn't seem to bother anyone.  Everyone was in celebration-mode! 


Sunday, October 10, 2010
Today I visited Deadwood.  "Established during the 1876 gold rush, Deadwood was a magnet for get rich-quick prospectors and the kind of businesses where they could lose those riches quick: bars, brothels, dance halls and gambling houses.  The latter is what brought James Butler aka "Wild Bill" Hickok to town.  He was famous as a quick-draw artist, stagecoach driver, and scout for George Custer.  August 2, 1876, little more than a month after he arrived in Deadwood, Hickok was shot in the back as he played poker in saloon No. 10.  The cards that fell from his hands - pairs of aces and eights - have been known ever since as the "dead man's hand.  Located in the rugged Back Hills the town today looks much as it did in the 1880's, owing to preservation and gambling initiatives.  Today, scores of gaming establishments line streets, and block after block of restored Victorian buildings have earned the town a place on the National Register of Historic Places."

I stopped into the Visitor Center for a map of the walking tour of the historic town, the visitor center being historic in its own right, as being the old railroad station.  I walked up and down the streets, admiring the homes, the old mill, Saloon No. 10, and grabbed lunch at Diamond Lil's.  Diamond Lil's is a bar & grill in the Midnight Star Casino, owned by movie star Kevin Costner.  I ate my nachos and examined the walls of authentic costumes, props and memorabilia from his movies, such as Robin Hood, Waterworld, and Dances with Wolves.


After I had consumed nearly every chip on the enormous platter, I walked it off at Mount Moriah Cemetary, the resting place of Wild Bill and "Calamity Jane."  Best known for her claim to being Bill's lover, she got her wish in her last dying request of being buried in the plot next to him.

Well, it was a memorable last night in SD; I saw a car in flames and a dinosaur on my way back to Rapid City!  :/


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