A Travellerspoint blog

Close Encounters - SD to WY

The Black Hills are home to one of the most famous US attractions, Mount Rushmore. We made it there early Sunday and after fighting our way through car parks, entrances, walkways and visitor centres, were faced with the four fullas; Washington, Franklin, Roosevelt and Lincoln with their 60 ft heads. It was a gorgeous day so we took the short hike through the pine forest to view the monument from directly below which also took in the sculptor's studio describing how it was created.
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The Black Hills area around the mountain and the Custer State Park which we drove to next were beautiful, with pine forests and streams opening out to green pastures. As we wound our way around the mountainous roads we kept catching glimpses of Mount Rushmore from further and further away. After reading that Custer was home to the US' largest herd of roaming bison (buffalo) and hoping to see some, we were delighted to come across a herd in a field next to the road and stopped for a few snaps. We were talking about what we'd do if we came across a bison on the road and only a few minutes later we came round a bend and nearly smacked into one standing in front of us. Cue mad scrambling from me to locate the camera as we held up the traffic while bison took his time to amble to the roadside and saunter off to wherever he pleased.
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After lunch of buffalo burger (is that in poor taste?) we visited the Crazy Horse monument. There were a few surprises here; the exorbitant entry fee of $20 (twice that of Mt Rushmore), that it is entirely a private building project, that after starting work on it in 1948 only the face is finished and finally that it is – or will be – absolutely massive. At 563 feet it is taller than the tallest Giza pyramid. We scrambled back to the RV as another storm rolled in and made it back to our park just in time.
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Monday we stretched out from South Dakota to Wyoming, with a big drive to bring us closer to Yellowstone. Our only proper stop was something we decided to do the night before, visit the Devil's Tower National Monument. It is more commonly known as the weird mountain from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. At 1267ft it is a nearly vertical volcanic outcrop from the river valley below. We took a hike around the base of it and were excited to see in a field below the tower, a coterie of prairie dogs. They are wonderful little critters, like tiny meerkats. They bounded and gambolled and played and grouped together around their burrow entrances when a large bird circled overhead.
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The rest of the drive across Wyoming, while long, was actually quite wonderful. We encountered a cattle drive, complete with denim-clad cowboys and their horse-drawn supply wagon, miles and miles of lush and rolling ranch-land and endless blue skies that eventually gave way to the snow-topped Big Horn mountains which we passed through and finally to the base of the Rockies. Our pit stop before Yellowstone was the town of Cody, made famous by Buffalo Bill whose home town this is. I was all go in Cody with a rodeo on that night (which sadly parenting duties meant we had to miss), and the town boasting a most excellent museum and a main street chocker with cowboy outfitters.
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Posted by heronee 20:34 Archived in USA Tagged usa Comments (0)

Flood lands mad lands and Badlands - MO to SD

Friday's journey was north west out of Missouri, up the western edge of Iowa following the Missouri River and north into South Dakota, finishing for the night in Tea near Sioux Falls, SD. We seemed to hit a number of detours en route and after yet another in Iowa that took us many miles off the interstate, a gas station attendant informed us that there were floods of the Missouri river from snow melt from the Rockies. This was apparently a major news story that we had somehow managed to miss while being right in the middle of the action! As we continued our detour, better informed as to what the roads – and rivers – ahead held, we passed through the small town of Missouri Valley in which the townspeople were busy sandbagging shops and businesses along the main street. Three days later, the news says that three Missouri levees in this area have now burst.

Saturday we expected a direct and potentially dull drive west to reach the Black Hills, but South Dakota had a number of surprises. First was Mitchell, a small town an hour from Sioux Falls and home of... the Corn Palace. This was a Taj Mahal–esque building that every year is adorned with a fresh exterior of corn, a new design each time. Inside and outside is a veritable cornucopia (sorry) of corn-related attractions, sideshows, food stalls, and souvenir stands overseen by Cornelius – the Mascot of the Corn. Overall a weird, pointless but very diverting distraction from the I-90.
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South Dakota was mainly green and gently rolling prairie lands. We then took a detour off the I-90 to a place we had never heard of before this trip, Badlands National Park, where the prairie seemed to have dropped off an abyss into dry and desolate pink canyons. Our Lonely Planet described the park as looking like it had been boiled dry and that is a perfect description. We stopped over and over for photos, with the ever-present fear of rattlesnakes keeping the excitement level high (I even invented a short rattlesnake ditty so that they'd hear me coming and slither away. I didn't see any so I guess the song works).
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Back on the interstate we at last reached the destination for which the anticipation had been building for over 350 miles... Wall Drug. This is a famous business in the town of Wall that in the tough times of the 1930s, erected a sign on the highway advertising free ice water to entice customers off the main road. These signs have become an attraction in their own right and even stretch out of state. I spent most of the day's journey clutching my camera to snap any Wall Drug signs. I don't really know why except that it became a sort of sport, like munro bagging but with much less effort. After 350 miles of hype of course we had to stop and Wall Drug delivered everything it promised... 5 cent coffee, cowboy supplies, homemade donuts, animatronic dinosaurs and ice water which is still free 80 years after the first sign went up. Another magnificent roadside Temple of Tat and well worth stopping.
101_0336.jpgFree ice water at Wall Drug

Free ice water at Wall Drug

Souvenirs at Wall Drug

Souvenirs at Wall Drug


We reached the Black Hills and our site on the far side of Mount Rushmore. After a beautiful evening under the pines, we retreated into Harrison as a spectacular thunder and lightening storm lit up the sky. We switched off the lights and left the blinds open so we could fall asleep watching the storm rage and boil.

Posted by heronee 08:02 Archived in USA Tagged usa Comments (0)

First leg (and tooth) - VA to MO

Of course all the planning, packing and organising means nothing when the windscreen of your plane breaks and your flight is cancelled (sigh). But we eventually left the UK behind after a mere 8 hours at Heathrow with the added surprise of an upgrade and Arthur sleeping like an angel almost the whole way. We made it safely to Washington DC Saturday night but... our bags did not.

Arthur enjoying the flight

Arthur enjoying the flight

We had a couple of days in Reston, Virginia with the wonderful Peters family who outdid themselves with their hospitality yet again. Our bags eventually landed, Jo took me shopping for provisions and final baby paraphenalia for the trip, and Jim kindly flew Ben to New Jersey to pick up our RV. My stepbrother Ed and his fiance Em popped out to see us for lunch on Sunday too.

Tuesday we set off in Harrison (Ford), our 25 foot RV beast.
Harrison joins the family - departing Reston, VA

Harrison joins the family - departing Reston, VA

Ben, having gotten used to the size of it on the trip down from NJ, was confident at the wheel while I just thanked the gods of roads that American lanes are so wide so as to accommodate Harrison's bulk. From Virginia we skimmed along Maryland's pan handle (missing some potentially diverting towns such as Funkstown and Accident). Next was West Virginia which while lush and green was fairly uneventful aside from the truck directly in front of us getting a blow out which required evasive action to avoid hitting both truck and tyre. Our fourth and final state for the day was Kentucky. The area around Lexington was serious horse money - lovely undulating pastures, neat fences and nouveau-riche mansions but not many horses visible!

We arrived at Kentucky Horse Park just north of Lexington around 9pm - our longest day in the itinerary - and after a quick tea it was straight to bed for the three of us once we figured out how the beds worked. Woke in the morning to another hot day, it has been at least 30 C every day so far. On wandering the 40m or so to the bathroom, I realised I was the only one walking - everyone else uses a golf cart to get around!

Before departing Kentucky on Wednesday, we had to pause en route for an essential stop. Yes, Kentucky Fried Chicken. But imagine our shame in presenting ourselves at a KFC just off the interstate only to be asked politely to go away for 20 minutes because they weren't open yet. I imagined they were dialling social services to report two persons bringing a 7 month old baby into a KFC at 10am. So we returned for our obligatory chicken and to all Arthur's grandparents reading this...we did not give him anything to eat from KFC!

KFC in Kentucky

KFC in Kentucky

We passed through Louisville and into Indiana which we skimmed across the bottom of, followed by southern Illinois - just flat crop fields as far as the eye could see with only dust clouds from the odd tractor to break the monotony. Finally in the distance we glimpsed the glinting 630 ft high Gateway Arch of St Louis. We crossed the Mississippi River into Missouri and made straight for Ted Drewes - an icon of the old Route 66 which has served frozen custard to roadies for 70 years. It sure was good...

Ted Drewes on Route 66

Ted Drewes on Route 66

'Flipped' Frozen Custard at Ted Drewes, Route 66

'Flipped' Frozen Custard at Ted Drewes, Route 66

Our stop for the night was 20 minutes away and as it was near 35 C, we were very thankful to find the RV park had a pool. Went to sleep that night with the chorus of a brood of cicadas that have lain dormant in the ground for 17 years and have burrowed out in time to meet us with their deafeningly loud clicks. Their dead bodies carpet the ground, making for a lively and crunchy underfoot experience.

A shorter driving day today, Thursday, and after checking out the small but interesting Route 66 Museum situated in a lovely state park, we headed west across Missouri to Independence.

Route 66, MO

Route 66, MO

After finding our RV park we picked up a $1 bus that circuits the town to check out the National Frontier Trails Museum. Independence was the starting point for many of the pioneers that took the Oregon, California and Santa Fe trails out west. It is also proudly the home of President Truman and sights abound about his life and work and we had sodas at the beautiful art deco Clinton's Soda Fountain which was where he had his first job.

President Truman's home

President Truman's home

Sodas at Clinton's

Sodas at Clinton's

Clinton's Soda Fountain

Clinton's Soda Fountain

And for those with an interest... (grandparents again) Arthur cut his first tooth today!

Posted by heronee 19:23 Archived in USA Tagged usa Comments (0)

Going...going...almost gone

After ten years in the UK for Ben and six for me, we are moving back to our dear New Zealand. We are returning with a hefty piece of carry-on baggage, our wee boy Arthur who is 7 months old at the time of writing. We are ready to give up lengthy commutes, face-licking bus strangers and the architectural wonder that is pebble-dash. But we also have to give up our wonderful UK families, history, springtime (nice every year), travel and Saturday Kitchen. Because we felt we weren't quite busy enough with finishing work, selling our house and packing up our lives to ship across the world, we embarked on last minute trips to Spain, Austria and Ireland.

We always thought we'd do one last trip on the way home and so we fly to the US for a cross-country adventure from Washington DC to San Francisco in an RV (that's a campervan for you kiwis). We hope you enjoy sharing our travels as we attempt to be relaxed parents while sharing a confined space with an infant for five weeks. Roads, deserts, grizzly bears and Big Gulp... we are so excited!

Arthur - ready to go

Arthur - ready to go

Posted by heronee 02:44 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

Arthurian Austria

Our second to last European holiday - and a means to use up Ben's remaining European airmiles - involved flying in and out of Vienna and making up the rest as we went along for a week.

We had two wonderful days in Vienna seeing the grand and gorgeous architecture, the Zentralfriedhof cemetery where 2.5 million great, good and not so good of Vienna are buried in elaborate graves along with some heinous and tacky ones, the Hall of Honour or 'Prunksaal' of the National Library (in my opinion what all libraries should be like), a day at the enormous Schonbrunn palace where after touring the palace and wandering the gardens and woods for hours realised we had barely scratched the surface, and made a friend in the manager of Hansy's where we enjoyed traditional Austria food over two nights and where he didn't mind our sleeping baby parked in the corner of the restaurant for the evening.

Next we hired a car and drove through the Wachau Valley along the (not so blue) Danube, via Durnstein where Richard the Lionheart was imprisoned and later rescued by his minstrel, to the Salzkammergut lake district where we stayed in Obertraun across the lake of Hallstatten See from the famous picturesque village of Hallstatt. The ferry ride from Obertruan to Hallstatt across the perfectly still lake was simply gorgeous and the sheer mountain sides dropping steeply down to the water was reminiscent of Fiordland back home.

A short drive to Salzburg from there where we spent a couple of days, allowing me to indulge a bit of The-Sound-of-Music-spotting and where we clambered around the Hohensalzburg Fortress, ambled around the Mirabell gardens and the old town, visited one of the Mozart musems (there were a few) and out to the Schloss Hellbrunn palace gardens and its Wasserspiel trick fountains which were unexpectedly lots of fun. More fun was watching an older couple in suede jackets trying to stay dry (why would you wear suede to an attraction where the signs clearly show in amusing pictorial fashion that you will definitely get wet?) Salzburg was a much smaller, laid-back and relaxing place to visit than Vienna, with a feel more like a university city - despite the uber-tourism associated with the aforementioned TSOM and Mozart.

From there we crossed all the way East back across Austria for a night in a little town called Rust on the edge of Neusiedler See lake right on the border with Hungary, with its candy-coloured market square and the wonderful sight of stork pairs nesting on every rooftop, clacking their beaks at each other.

Finally we returned to Vienna for one last night where we stayed in the Intercontinental (another airmiles freebie), having an indulgent lazy afternoon watching the Royal wedding on TV and ordering room service. I think we were the only guests in jandals, lowering the tone slightly. We spent the last day before our evening flight wandering around more of the overwhelming Inner Stadt including the Kunsthistorisches art gallery, the market Naschmarkt which sold everything from cheese to violins and more of the Hofburg complex of gardens, squares and palaces.

We had read that Austria was not a particularly family-friendly place to visit but we didn't find that at all and were able to take the charming Arthur everywhere with us, day and night. Even the Hotel Intercontinental greeted us warmly, with Arthur getting cuddles from the bellboy and a kind waitress making me a coffee even though the lobby cafe was closed as I obviously looked like I needed it at 6.30am.

Stefansdom

Stefansdom

Prunksaal - Hall of Honour of the National Library

Prunksaal - Hall of Honour of the National Library

Hofburg Palace

Hofburg Palace

Heldenplatz

Heldenplatz

Zentralfriedhof celebs: Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert

Zentralfriedhof celebs: Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert

Zentralfriedhof

Zentralfriedhof

Schonbrunn Palace

Schonbrunn Palace

Lunch in the Schonbrunn Palace woods

Lunch in the Schonbrunn Palace woods

Schonbrunn Palace

Schonbrunn Palace

Richard the Lionheart's prison, Durnstein above the Danube

Richard the Lionheart's prison, Durnstein above the Danube

The Danube, Durnstein

The Danube, Durnstein

Lake edge in Obertraun

Lake edge in Obertraun

View from our window, Obertrauner Hof

View from our window, Obertrauner Hof

Hallstatter See

Hallstatter See

Obertraun to Hallstatt ferry

Obertraun to Hallstatt ferry

Hallstatt

Hallstatt

Hallstatt approach by ferry

Hallstatt approach by ferry

Fire Salamander

Fire Salamander

Hallstattersee lake

Hallstattersee lake

TSOM - "Do Re Mi" Mirabell Gardens

TSOM - "Do Re Mi" Mirabell Gardens

TSOM - "Do Re Mi", Mirabell Garden

TSOM - "Do Re Mi", Mirabell Garden

View from Hohensalzburg Fortress

View from Hohensalzburg Fortress

Hohensalzburg Fortress

Hohensalzburg Fortress

Taking the tour at Hohensalzburg Fortress

Taking the tour at Hohensalzburg Fortress

View over lunch at Hohensalzburg fortress

View over lunch at Hohensalzburg fortress

TSOM - "...and schnitzel with noodles..."

TSOM - "...and schnitzel with noodles..."

TSOM - the cemetery where the Von Trapps hide at the end

TSOM - the cemetery where the Von Trapps hide at the end

TSOM - "I am sixteen going on seventeen..."

TSOM - "I am sixteen going on seventeen..."

Wasserspiele, Hellbrunn Palace

Wasserspiele, Hellbrunn Palace

Wasserspiele, Hellbrunn Palace

Wasserspiele, Hellbrunn Palace

Wasserspiel trick fountains, Hellbrunn

Wasserspiel trick fountains, Hellbrunn

Hellbrunn Palace

Hellbrunn Palace

Hellbrunn Palace

Hellbrunn Palace

Rooftop stork nests in Rust

Rooftop stork nests in Rust

Beer in Rust market square

Beer in Rust market square

Brueghel's Tower of Babel, Kunsthistorisches Museum

Brueghel's Tower of Babel, Kunsthistorisches Museum

Kunsthistorisches Museum

Kunsthistorisches Museum

Naschmarkt flea market

Naschmarkt flea market

Beautiful Secession design near Naschmarkt

Beautiful Secession design near Naschmarkt

Relaxing in Hofburg gardens

Relaxing in Hofburg gardens

Rathaus - town hall Vienna

Rathaus - town hall Vienna

Posted by heronee 01:23 Archived in Austria Tagged austria Comments (0)

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