FROM HIPPIE TO CAVE MAN

The main event, Carlsbad Caverns, is why we took this detour, about 800 miles out of our “as the bird flies” route. After hearing all our lives about the famous Caverns, we took the plunge figuring we had no way to guarantee we’d ever do it again. We also have friends, Joe and Barbara, who have a second home in Santa Fe, and they had advised us “if you are ever in Santa Fe come by and visit”. When we got our schedule all finalized, and all our reservations made, we called them to set a date, and they weren’t scheduled to be in Santa Fe that weekend. At least we tried.

The Visitor Center is about 30 miles outside of town (no BUMP signs though!)

Partly as a result of the pandemic, the Caverns now requires a reservation in advance that specifies a time window (one hour long) during which you can purchase your ticket and enter the caves. That can only be done 30 days or less in advance but must be done before you arrive. We decided on the earliest start time we could get, 8:30AM, to both beat the crowds and the heat, not remembering that the year-round temperature inside the caves is 62F. Period. Anyway, writer’s hours get us up early. Our planning paid off, we got there early, flashed our Senior Pass, and rode the elevator 800 feet down to the start point of the self-guided tour.

It was surprising to see how inviting the underground Big Room Tour station was.

You get 2 options to enter the caves. The “hike” which enters through the Natural Entrance and continues 80 stories down steep ramps and stairs to the bottom of the same cave chambers that the bats live in, although they live much farther back into the cave complex than the public is allowed. You can tour a few of these chambers until your path joins up with the Big Room tour path, which is reached easily by your second entrance option, the Elevators. The photo above is where the elevators let out. It is also where the restrooms are, a very important factor for a couple of septuagenarians.

Our first impression was how dark and how quiet it was. The darkness was partly a result of riding in the very well-lit elevator, and our eyes gradually got accustomed to the dim lighting as we strode off onto the tour path. The quiet was because we had the cavern nearly all to ourselves; there were maybe a dozen people in there at the time we arrived. It was like a church inside, and we highly recommend an early start if you ever make the trip.

There is a lot of lighting inside the complex, all of it muted and very focused on features. Professional photographers have published many long-exposure shots online that lead you to believe the interior is very colorful. But that just isn’t so. These long-exposure photos came off the web:

Our photos are very different, and much closer to what we actually saw with naked eyes, because your naked eye doesn’t have a long-exposure mode.

And this selfie gives you a much better impression of what it’s really like with all the muted and directed lighting.

The over-riding impression we’re left with is the VASTNESS of it all. The birth of the caverns stretches 150 million years back when the area was a shallow sea, and the Capitan Reef was formed in it by trillions of small animals (not corals) that died and fused to form a long calcium rich ridge/reef that got buried over time by hundreds of feet of sediment. When the sea receded, geologic forces broke the reef in half underground, and the large fissure resulted in the cave structure. Millions of years of water seeping through all the calcium derivatives, enhanced by all the acidic chemical reactions, leaves us standing and staring at the result. It makes a body feel small and leaves a very strong feeling that there are forces at work much, much larger than us.

We made the loop, about 1 ½ miles, and ended back at the tour start and elevators. We had asked about the bats. Where are the bats? We were told that we could walk over to the hike start point, about 5 minutes, and see the Natural Entrance, where the bats exit and enter the complex. The Mexican bats migrate up in the early spring to use the cave as a daytime shelter so they can fly out to feed over the Pecos River at night. In the late spring and summer, there is seating at dusk to wait for the giant cloud to emerge, but there isn’t any guarantee it will happen on any given night. We opted for a YouTube video.

The Bat Show takes place at dusk from late Spring to Summer’s end
The hiking trail that leads down into the cavern complex through the Natural (sans dynamite) Entrance. It goes 80 stories down.
Cool air came out of the caves like natural air conditioning

We left after 3 hours with an overall sense of the vastness and age of the caverns, and the smallness of our lives in comparison. It’s a trip worth making at least once in your life!

Next up: Wagon’s Ho to Abilene, and Banking on the Run

Tippy keeps it all in perspective regardless of size. And that’s coming from an elephant.

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ALIEN BURGERS TASTE LIKE ALIEN CHICKEN

My newfound path to Hippiedom has been blessed with many outposts, rest stops, roadside attractions, and Kodak Photo Points. Remember the Kodak Photo Points at Disneyland? When I was a kid, these were where your parents would drag or push you to get “the perfect shot”. Of course, it was all manufactured, even the backdrop, out of a retired agricultural field using wire, concrete and plaster. And it was a way for Walt and his brother to make a few bucks off a Kodak sponsorship or by selling a few rolls of film. I’m gushing cynical here but contrasting our trip to date with that benchmark I find that a loosely structured jump into America produces something that much more closely resembles perfect.

As we motor down the highway, all 17,000 pounds of us and always in the middle of a stretch of road that goes 40 miles in either direction without seeing hide nor hair (well, sometimes a hare), I always marvel at the appearance out of nowhere of a giant yellow sign that warns “BUMP”, followed almost immediately by a bump that rattles us and everything in every cabinet of the rig.

The time, cost, and trouble it took to acquire and erect the sign could have been better spent just fixing the damn bump, no?

The most common question I get asked is “How do you manage to write so much almost every day?”. First, it really isn’t so much. Second, we are seeing a lot every day, and that gives lots of fuel to the writer’s engine. Third, I keep pretty regular writer’s hours, usually 4AM-6AM, and I fill that time emptying the bucket of observations into the laptop. What isn’t specifically germane to the days’ sightseeing theme, our random thoughts and philosophical moments, usually gets transcribed into a prose bank, a document I keep on the side to cut and paste from. We both keep one; it serves a purpose all on its own to just unclutter the mind and make more room for the important stuff. This paragraph came from it. I’m sure that’s way more than you all wanted to know.

Our trip to Carlsbad took us through Roswell, apparently the center of the Universe for UFO activity. Everything in the Southwest seems “out in the middle of nowhere” because of the huge expanses (full of BUMP signs) of unpopulated land, and Roswell is no exception. Most of the wide-spread dots on the map pop up in your windshield and just as fast are gone in your rear-view mirror. But Roswell gradually rises up out of the desert like one of those pop-up greeting cards that go all 3D when you open them. We were expecting far less, surprised to see Walmart, Sam’s Club, Target, Albertson’s, even a JC Penney (the only one I’ve seen in YEARS). And Roswell spends a lot of its landscape advertising itself.

This image doesn’t do the saucer justice. I would take the truck over it anyway.
We’re led to believe this green guy is actually FBI.

It was lunchtime and we were thinking we could stop somewhere and order Alien burgers, but didn’t even though they have a McDonalds fashioned out of an old alien spaceship. They probably just taste like chicken anyway.

The Kid’s PlayPlace is out of this world!

Of course, we had to stop and buy a magnet, so we also took the opportunity to pose with a few of the locals.

Looking fashionable in her Palm Coast t-shirt!

Onward we went after our lunch and a gas fill-up (just barely north of $4/gallon!), southward back into the vast desert. As RVers, we are bucking the natural order of things by going South in the Summer (the dashboard temp shows 99F, probably headed to 103). We did this before when we last lived in a rig and went North in the Winter. The obvious disadvantages are the tribulations that adverse weather can bring to those who live in a box on wheels, whether it be cold or heat. The advantage is being able to see and tour without the crowds of other RVers. Off-season locals can be very chatty about their towns when the crowds are gone, but you’ll never know until you try it yourself.

Carlsbad was another “ship in the desert” that amazed us. We read in the “Quick Facts” that “Carlsbad is a city in the southeast of New Mexico, founded in the southeast of New Mexico so that the citizens of southeast New Mexico could have a city”. We figure Kamala Harris has a side gig writing these things.

It’s a l o n g city, 10 miles north to south, and contains many of the large city amenities we have become accustomed to. I previously studied cell phone coverage maps of all of our destinations, trying to determine what kind of connection we could maintain to the internet at our stops. It is now clear to me that the pace of growth in cell phone coverage and speed has outpaced the ability of the web to keep up with it. My research showed that Carlsbad had “nearly zero” coverage of any type, and the reviews were there to back that opinion up, even if they were a couple of years old. Most warned T-Mobile customers to steer clear, or immediately transition to Verizon, “the only partial coverage in town”. We had a very good 5G signal all the way through, only dipping to moderately good LTE coverage as we drifted out of town south toward our campground. After our visit to The Caverns on Memorial Day, we are going to stock up on some necessities in town, especially some needed RV supplies. Our campground is next door to an RV supply shop, and there is a Tractor Supply and a Walmart just down the road!

Next up: Carlsbad Caverns, a post worthy of all-on-its-own status.

Tippy has stopped dwelling on the past. He and one of my all-time favorite sports coaches.

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DUTY, HONOR, COUNTRY

For Memorial Day, 2022, I will surrender my pen to one of America’s great heroes.

From remarks by Gen. Douglas MacArthur to West Point cadets at the United States Military Academy on May 12, 1962:

[The American soldier] needs no eulogy from me or from any other man. He has written his own history and written it in red on his enemy’s breast. But when I think of his patience under adversity, of his courage under fire, and of his modesty in victory, I am filled with an emotion of admiration I cannot put into words. He belongs to history as furnishing one of the greatest examples of successful patriotism. He belongs to posterity as the instructor of future generations in the principles of liberty and freedom. He belongs to the present, to us, by his virtues and by his achievements. In 20 campaigns, on a hundred battlefields, around a thousand campfires, I have witnessed that enduring fortitude, that patriotic self-abnegation, and that invincible determination which have carved his statue in the hearts of his people. From one end of the world to the other he has drained deep the chalice of courage…

Others will debate the controversial issues, national and international, which divide men’s minds; but serene, calm, aloof, you stand as the Nation’s war-guardian, as its lifeguard from the raging tides of international conflict, as its gladiator in the arena of battle. For a century and a half you have defended, guarded, and protected its hallowed traditions of liberty and freedom, of right and justice…

You are the leaven which binds together the entire fabric of our national system of defense. From your ranks come the great captains who hold the nation’s destiny in their hands the moment the war tocsin sounds. The Long Gray Line has never failed us. Were you to do so, a million ghosts in olive drab, in brown khaki, in blue and gray, would rise from their white crosses thundering those magic words: Duty, Honor, Country.

This does not mean that you are war mongers.

On the contrary, the soldier, above all other people, prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.

But always in our ears ring the ominous words of Plato, that wisest of all philosophers: “Only the dead have seen the end of war.”

Tippy salutes our troops and our nation.

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SANTA FE DEUX

Do you know the way to Santa Fe? Dion Warwick would say! Well, not exactly, but now you can’t get that nasty ear worm out! I’ll make up for it by gifting one of our sunrises (yes, we’re up that early).

It’s 5:45AM, writer’s hours are over for the day.

We found a smart place to put one of the twin rocks we featured yesterday. Someone’s gonna be surprised!

Not really having a plan for touring, we started out at the Farmer’s Market, which is just on the outskirts of the old downtown. It runs year-round on Saturdays (yay!) and Tuesdays. We weren’t pleased to see every single street blanketed with parking meters (greedy capitalists!), but at least relieved that they were smart, internet-accessible ones, and not just the old school quarter-gobbling clunkers. We need those quarters for the old school laundromats. On our whole trip, this is the first place we have found a laundry that takes credit cards. Astonishing that America’s RV parks haven’t caught up with the 20th Century. Of course, we don’t need to do laundry while we’re here because we did that in Cheyenne, thus lowering the weight of the rig by a few dozen quarters. Smart, right?

We discovered there is a regional passenger train running north-south through town, called the Rail Runner, that has a depot at the Farmer’s Market. It runs as a “commuter” line all the way to Albuquerque and beyond, including the airport. I wonder if it takes quarters.

I think the Engineer is changing the oil on the purple dragon engine.

Wendy dressed all in clothes that our daughter-in-law Dana gave her, and insisted I get this picture as evidence. I have no idea what the sculpture represents, but doesn’t Wendy look great?

The farmer’s market was very crowded as soon as it opened. There were obviously lots of tourists wearing t-shirts from all their stops. There was also almost every type of leafy green you could think of, and many you can’t think of. Lots of other produce too, and turquoise jewelry everywhere. You would never guess we’re having an inflation crisis with everything being disgustingly over-priced. I know that lettuce is getting expensive, but tiny bags of lettuce leaves at $9? Really? Who needs this stuff to survive? The only thing we found of interest at the farmer’s market, which is something we always seek out wherever we go, is the Ice Cream Store. In this case it was the Taos Ice Cream Store, and as luck would have it, they also make donuts! For me, it’s a true Two-Fer, as these 2 things are the keys to my nutritional philosophy. The donuts were expensive, but you can’t really put a price on philosophy.

My biggest problem: two hands and one mouth.

We’re not much for art galleries, farmer’s markets full of super over-priced stuff, or museums. This seemed to be a lot of what Old Town Santa Fe is, so we opted for a nice walk through all of it, and really appreciated the grand church that abuts Cathedral Plaza. We went inside to sit and ponder for several minutes. It was fantastic. No interior photography, so we’ll treat you to the exterior.

What Santa Fe does have is some very good food. We stumbled across La Fogata (translation: the campfire) who had very authentic street tacos (shrimp, barbacoa, al pastor) and chili rellenos, and a very tasty and spicy bean menudo that we absolutely loved. And the restaurant was, in the southwestern style, very colorful inside.

Color and more color, to contrast with the very brown and gray countryside.

They delivered our silverware wrapped up in a napkin, with one of those paper rings around it that have one sticky end like a PostIt note. You’ve all seen them. From experience, I know to carefully remove mine and pass it over to Wendy so she can render one of her “idle hands” creations by tearing the papers into strips and looping a chain out of them. She usually gifts them to a server.

Tippy thinks Leonardo was a really smart guy.

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MOTHRA STRIKES

The post today is in 2 parts. First, I’m going to provide some updates and kudos.

Kudos: Thanks to Linda & Dan for the coffee cups you gifted us at Orcas last summer. We use them every morning and think of you as we sip.

Just the right size, one cup for Wendy and 3 cups for me!

Thanks to Wendy’s BFF Robin, who gifted us two tubs of road trip snacks, which we snarfed our way through already and have resorted to buying bulk and refilling.

How could she have known they would fit the dashboard so neatly?

Debbie & Tommy, thanks for gifting us the kitchen towels with the Camper theme. They alternate with our other mundane ones. I’d put a picture but they’re in the laundry!

Updates: We decided on a collection theme for the trip, Magnets. At each major stop we visit the gift store and get one just the right size to fit on our stove hood. We have tried to keep a “Car Theme” going, and have been reasonably successful.

If it has a car on it, sold!

We have been faithfully painting and inscribing twin rocks with quotes every day, and leaving one in a prominent spot along our path, usually at our RV campsite. May 27 was our arrival in Santa Fe, and we will find an appropriate spot for one of these.

Co-Pilot Wendy will provide the basic blog content today. I’ll give my fingers a rest from this tiny, cramped laptop keyboard!

MOTHRA STRIKES

Picture taking is my domain for our blog, Warren is the witty writer. I’m deviating this time because I have a story to tell. After We stayed at the worse stop (so far) of our trip at a Pueblo Colorado KOA (never our favorites rv parks). We were parked on dirt, next to busy Interstate 25 and very close to the train tracks. Luckily it was a short overnight and we were up early, and we did get a little sleep despite the racket.

The 5-hour drive to Santa Fe was wrought with bumpy roads, dust storms, smoke from nearby fires and howling winds that rocked and pushed our high-profile rig. We arrived at Santa Fe Skies RV Park, which is filled with large, high-end rigs that tower above us. It’s a beautiful resort, overlooking Santa Fe and we have the best view in the park. We walked the ¾ mile path that surrounds the park and marveled at the numerous scrap metal sculptures created by the owner. As the cloud cover cooled the air, we sat outside on our shaded patio and sipped our mocktails of Cran-Raspberry Juice and diet tonic. A lovely cool breeze suggested a storm approaching but the rain evaporated before falling on us. We watched the colorful sunset, watched a couple of our favorite shows and hit the sack.

We might have the shortest rig in the park, but all the others have to look over us for this view!

All was well as I got comfy and started reading until a large moth landed on my book.

This picture doesn’t properly show the large fangs.

Warren, my hero, jumped up and captured it with his hands and opened the door and let it out. He walked back into the bedroom and another large moth was flying erratically but it turned out to be TWO large moths. He promptly caught one and came back for the other.  But wait, there’s more! One more moth in his hands and finally they were gone. It was quite a show for me as he jumped from one moth to another in the buff (how he sleeps) saving the day…again!

Warren’s hair is grayer (and shaggier) than this depiction.

And here’s a link to a panorama from our RV site, also provided by Wendy. Perhaps the best campground we’ve stayed in so far, on the heels of Pueblo KOA, which was hands-down the worst. https://rumble.com/v16fjo2-santa-fe-skies-view.html

Tippy is recovering from all the hoopla.

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GOD FIXED MY NORCOLD

You are probably wondering about the title. Maybe you are asking yourself “What the heck is a Norcold?” If you have ever owned an RV, even a boat with a refrigerator in it, you have very likely owned a Norcold. And if you have been in the RV-owning business for longer than 4 or 5 years, you have likely had to have it fixed. We went to the extreme a couple of times, in both our boat and our previous 5th wheel trailer and replaced one outright. They are expensive because they have the “Norcold” logo on them, the outright major manufacturer of these devices for RV’s and boats. You can buy a similar device for your dorm room from 10 different manufacturers for about 1/10th the price, but they won’t work in your 12V machine.

So, imagine our disappointment Thursday night on arrival in Pueblo, after a very long travel day. The light on the front of the Norcold was off. “Strange” I thought, “who turned off the fridge?” The answer: nobody. Very shortly the light started blinking red, an indication that it was trying to restart itself. It has an “automatic” mode where it can select one of 3 energy sources to run on, propane, 12V electric, or 110V electric (if you are plugged into shore power).

This is what a Norcold looks like when it’s working. The green light is the good light.

I had just plugged us into shore power, so I immediately thought it was just having a little bit of trouble transitioning from the 12V power it uses while we are on the road to the shore power at the RV park. But it didn’t make the transition. So, I started checking around, pulling off the exterior panel to see if wires had fallen loose, or was something leaking, or WTF? Nothing. Wendy, being slightly more creative than I, began praying, which, while I felt “it couldn’t hurt”, didn’t really think it was helping. I ran out of ideas, and instead decided to sit on the portable massage chair (Wendy named “him” Raul, which I have always thought disloyal of her) to iron out the stiff back muscles. While I was sitting there getting pummeled by shiatsu mode, Wendy asked for a tutorial on how to “kick the fridge back into gear”, redneck trailer trash (which we now temporarily are) talk for restarting it. I simply said, “you just touch the button next to the little light”. She touched it, and it came back on. Just like that. I take back the part about thinking prayer wasn’t helping. Clearly (and you can try to prove me wrong if you want), God fixed my Norcold.

This was the third problem to present itself at this campsite. You read previously about the shattered plates. Every stop more shards creep out from under the sofa slide. This stop, one got caught under the slide and carved a little cut into the top of the laminate floor. A little dab of super-strong clear glue fixed that right up.

Problem #2 happened as I was hooking up the flexi-hose between the holding tanks and the sewer dump outlet at the site.

The connector between the hose and the outlet came apart. It’s a snap together thing, but wouldn’t snap back together, and there was no way I was gonna pull the Geronimo Handle (the thing that opens the valve between the holding tank and the hose) if the hose wasn’t going to stay sealed into the outlet. I’ve had that happen more than once, and it ain’t pretty or sweet-smelling. Wendy, ever creative, again saved the day by microwaving a bowl of very hot water, and when I heated the 2 plastic parts in it they went right back together.

So, we got away clean on 3 problems. It won’t last. Trust me.

That was the end of the day. Early in the day we departed the last super-cold morning location we will likely see on this trip, Cheyenne Wyoming, which was a nippy 36F at dawn. We were overjoyed to be driving straight south toward much warmer weather and celebrated a bit by making 2 stops as we neared Denver. The first was in Loveland, a northern suburb, that has a Lovelocks feature at its municipal community center. Thank you again Wendy for the research on “things near our path”.

We bought a lock (the purple one of course), borrowed their engraving pencil, and immortalized our love on the wire, just on the right side of the heart-shaped O. I thought it would be romantic to throw the key in a river, thus sealing our love forever, but Wendy, for some reason unknown to me after being locked in a small box for almost 3 weeks now, wanted to keep it.

The second stop was only an hour south, at the Stanley Marketplace in North Aurora. We were diverting around Denver to avoid traffic, and this was only a couple of miles off the route. They have an ice cream store there called Sweet Cow, with legendary good ice cream.

This Thursday Throwback from Tippy has always been good advice.

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CHEYENNE

Our drive through the plains and back into the Rockies went well (except for that Kimball Grade thing). There were plenty of wide open spaces, and we had ample road snacks, an absolute MUST for road trips.

Wide open spaces

We arrived at the Cheyenne RV Resort in mid-afternoon and had some time before dinner to take a walk-through of Cheyenne proper. We imagined it, as a prominent cowboy town, to have a charming and authentic downtown section that might also present us with an opportunity to sample the local ice cream. Huh.

Cheyenne is Wyoming’s largest city (population approximately 500,000) and its capitol. One would hope that would make for a good walking city tour, a chance to stretch our legs and treat our eyes and ears to something besides a striped stretch of asphalt. We parked close to the State House, figuring that might be a good epicenter for our quest. There is pitifully little content online about how to tour Cheyenne, and now we know why. First, we arrived at about 4:30PM, and the city rolls up its sidewalks promptly at 5. Second, when we asked a local for suggestions about finding some “historic features”, she thought long and hard and replied “there really isn’t anything other than a few buildings about a mile south”. We walked that mile south and did find a few buildings, but not something we would call interesting. Still, better than Deadwood.

About the most interesting thing we saw were large boot sculptures scattered around town, each commemorating some event or person.

This one commemorates the County Library system

To spice up this short post a bit, I have an update on how well our trailer has fared so far. Well, not so much the trailer itself, but the contents. On our transit from Coeur D’Alene Idaho to West Glacier Montana, a highway work crew had diverted traffic eastbound onto an offramp and back up the onramp so they could repair an overpass. I noticed a little late that the cars and trucks in front of me were not negotiating the bottom of the offramp too well, and discovered, at about 20 mph, that there was a pretty sizeable dip in the road. We hit that baby and nearly caught air! When we arrived at West Glacier, we noticed some broken Correlle plate fragments. 2 small dessert plates had jumped out of an overhead cabinet when the door opened and smashed to smithereens on the floor. The cabinet door closed all by itself. We swept it up, initially thinking it was a single plate, but as we opened and closed the sofa slide over the next few days, more shards kept appearing out from under it, thus leading us to count the remaining plates and arriving at the correct damage assessment. If this is all we suffer from bad roads, more power to us!

Minimal damage, so far

After our overnight, we’ll head south with our sights set on Carlsbad Caverns for Memorial Day. And here’s some good advice for planning walking tours.

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The GREAT PLAINS and CARHENGE

We bugged out of Rapid City wanting some flatter land to tow through, so we drifted south and east toward the promise of the Great Plains. Our target was Alliance Nebraska, where a colorful local by the name of Jim Reinders reproduced the ancient temple of Stonehenge using cars instead of rocks. It’s a to-scale model, with precisely placed elements matching the original complete with an eastward facing portal that directs rays of the sunrise onto a specific fender of a specific rusty hulk on a specific day, which is implied but not specified. That’s not important. What is important is WHY he did it. When asked, he answered “Why not?”. So, there, in a nutshell is what’s important today. This is what counts for excitement in Nebraska.

A historical plaque informed us that the temple was completely assembled over 6 days during a large family visit in the summer of 1987. By his calculations, “we were able to reduce the time of the original Stonehenge construction by 9,999 years and 1 week”, thus imparting some sort of obtuse historical victory to the Reinders Clan. There are also a few other art exhibits constructed on the site.

The “Fourd Seasons” installation, 4 Fords as an homage to nature

Bonus Update on rocks for Rushmore and Crazy Horse: we did commemorative painted rocks in honor of our 2 main attractions. They are planted in Rapid City SD and Alliance NE, and their twins will live in our Florida garden.

The remaining ride to Cheyenne was predictably flat until we turned west at Kimball and began a long 60-mile uphill grade toward the Rockies that consumed well over ½ tank of gas (estimated mileage about 6 mpg). You could practically hear my wallet screaming. We were rewarded, however, with some very stunning landscape views, like Scott’s Bluff, which just rises out of the flat plain.

Scott’s Bluff was a navigational landmark for early pioneers and native tribes

We will next have a walking tour visit to Cheyenne, the capitol of Wyoming and its largest city with about ½ million population.

Tippy is an elephant of high character.

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NEXT UP, WALL DRUG, and DEADWOOD NEVERMORE

Due to our early start at Mt. Rushmore (we had plenty of parking choices), we finished up at Crazy Horse before 11AM. We took advantage of the free afternoon to make a detour to Wall Drug, about 50 miles east of Rapid City. It seems like a long “detour”, but with 80 mph speed limits on the interstate, it goes pretty quick. Especially when driving the truck without our house attached.

The internet tells us that Wall Drug, like the Kardashian’s, is famous for being famous. Started in 1931 by Ted and Dorothy Hustead, Dorothy’s genius idea to offer free ice water to travelers on the nearby highway, advertised via roadside signs, started them down the path to monster tourist attraction. If one sign worked well, thought Ted, why wouldn’t a hundred signs work a hundred times better? Soon, signs were appearing everywhere, and when they started their program to offer free signs simply by asking for one (a program that persists to this day), they started appearing all over the world, driven partly by American GI’s being deployed all over said world during WWII. The only requirement to receive a sign: post the mileage to Wall Drug and send us a photo. I’ve seen them all over the US, and as you drive there on Interstate 90 you can see 3 or 4 every mile.

These signs, all over the US, get more frequent as you get closer to Wall, SD.

Here’s one far flung fan:

I have no idea where it’s posted, but I do know how far away it is!

Main Street in Wall South Dakota is totally dominated by Wall Drug. Filling a city block, there are other symbiotic businesses lining the block across the street that try to compete selling pretty much the same stuff but can’t compete with the prices. The only benefit they offer is a lower crowd density, and tattoos. There are many parking lots surrounding the “downtown core” which is primarily Wall Drug. But we must have a large supply of parking karma in the bank because we parked directly in front of one entrance, the Café, where we enjoyed a Buffalo burger and hamburger for lunch. The onion rings were fantastic! And the free ice water was as good as it can be. We passed on the 5-cent coffee, which is offered through an honor bar (“Place nickel in slot prior to serving yourself”).

You can imagine the scene if you can picture about 15 Disney gift shops packed into a building that covers a city block. Resisting the temptation to empty our wallets to benefit the Husteads, we bought a magnet, something we have been doing everywhere on this trip. Then we hightailed it out of town, but not before posing with our two new Besties of Wall.

Our second day of touring was reserved for Deadwood. I had visited 40+ years ago and still had fond memories of the authentic old West gold rush town. In those days, it was still burnished by its birth in 1874 out of a gulch full of dead trees and a creek full of gold. Main Street had the famous saloons and brothels maintained to help impart a sense of the lawlessness and excitement that was Deadwood in the late 1870’s. Wild Bill Hickok arrived here and within a few weeks was gunned down while holding a hand of aces and eights, the “dead man’s hand”. Calamity Jane is buried next to him in the local cemetery. I’m a sucker for old American history, and this place in those days fed that rush.

The welcome sign is promising, but wait till you go round the corner.

Today’s Deadwood is a pretty severe disappointment. Main Street is still there, although it has been transformed by a plague of major hotel/casinos that have discovered the new gold: trading history for profits.

You won’t have trouble finding a place to park your money in someone else’s wallet.

These monster establishments literally cast shadows over the original town, blotting out the past so completely that the new town fathers have resorted to a few well-placed historical signs and daily re-enactments of street gun fights (only in the summer season) to remind their craps and slot-playing customers that this was once a wild western place. One may as well visit Reno.

We truncated our Black Hills Deadwood tour early and drove in silence back to the rig. On a brighter note, we used the extra time to catch up on our rock painting and blog writing!

Tippy is a huge Elon Musk fan.

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FIRST UP, MOUNT RUSHMORE and CRAZY HORSE

Fresh out of Sturgis, we got settled into Rapid City South RV, aptly named for its location on the highway to Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse, our main attractions for the area. This is a 3 night stop for us, a chance to really recharge the batteries and do some touring. We’re still seeing profuse evidence of a very conservative population, up to and including whole stores devoted to Trump 2024 (yes, many of these folks seem convinced), heralded by billboards on the highway. It’s a notable observation, not because of the political sentiment, but that folks can apparently make a good living off of it. Who‘da thunk?

With 2 whole days to tour, we planned the first as a Mt. Rushmore to Crazy Horse round trip. We realize that there isn’t a lot to do at Mt. Rushmore other than staring in awe at the mountain, and then emptying your wallet in the gift shop (we didn’t). We had each been there before, at least 40 years or more earlier. And boy has it changed. I remember it being a single parking lot, very crowded, with limited parking for longer or larger rigs. And the Visitor Center was a single building affair with a large veranda at the back for viewing the sculpture. From the parking lot, to the veranda, ooing and awing, then a quick stop in the very small gift shop, back to the car was about a 20 to 30 minute deal. But the National Park Service budget has been very kind to them. There is now a 6 level parking structure, with elevators and ramps and a Disneyland-like crowd funneling system to get everyone to the front of a massive Visitor Complex that has at least 4 buildings, including an ice cream store, a restaurant, a gift shop, restrooms, and a Greeting Center. It’s still just the same few minutes to oooh and aww, but the hike from the parking to the viewing plaza, which is enormous, can take at least 15 minutes, if you don’t count the 15 minutes it takes to pay your automated kiosk parking pass.

Wendy remembers the thrill of the “first sight” as you drive into the monument on the windy mountain road.

Round the bend you drive, and Bam! There’s George

And you can get some pretty nice views without even going into the “complex”.

Not even there yet, and already awesome!

Once in, and parked, and paid (the monument itself is free, parking is paid at $10 per car, $5 for seniors), you have to hike through the canyon of buildings, catching ever increasing glimpses of the faces as you progress through the “Sculptors Plaza”(Gutzon Borglum is the man) and the “Walk of Flags” where all of the states and territories of the USA are represented.

We knew it would be a quick stop, and we intentionally arrived a little before it opened at 8AM to give us plenty of time to get to Crazy Horse, where we were assured there was much more to do. We snapped the obligatory selfie and hit the road for a 25-minute drive to our next stop. On the way there, we found a very interesting view of George Washington from the highway.

Crazy Horse is a different deal. It has no affiliation with the federal government, the creators intentionally refusing federal funds as a way to stay clear of bureaucracy, intrusive oversight and regulation. As a result, the progress toward completion has taken many decades, and will likely take many more decades until it is done. We were both there the same 40 plus years ago, and although it has changed significantly (better parking lots, roads, and a museum/visitor center, some carving progress), it still gives off the same vibe that it used to. The aura of the place draws deeply on the Native American intention to honor their ancestors through the stone embodiment of Crazy Horse.

Just like Rushmore, you get an early tease before you arrive as the mountainous land gives way to a flatter valley.

40+ years ago only the face had been carved. Now much of the arm appears.

We had been using our National Park Service Senior “Forever” Pass ($10 when we bought it 6 years ago, now $80) frequently to get into Glacier, Yellowstone, Custer, Devils Tower, etc. But we had to fork over $12 each to get into Crazy Horse. It really seems worth it. The story of the Lakota Tribe finding and hiring Korczak Ziolkowski, the polish sculptor who had assisted Borglum with Rushmore, and then negotiating the agreements and strategy for the development, is a powerful tale of the marriage of intent, desire, talent, and perseverance to achieve something deemed impossible to most. The result very adeptly captures and projects all that went into it onto the viewers.

For the best experience, we recommend the $4 one-hour bus ride to the base of the mountain. The raw power of the stone, and the effort required to tame it is easy to miss from a distance. And, as a bonus, our Lakota native driver, whose birth name translated to “Crying Boy” but he goes by his “white” name Gary, provided a non-stop diatribe about his family, his girlfriend’s family (a different tribe, not Lakota fans), Crazy Horse’s family, and his work history for the last 20 years. If you listened with a very open mind, you could cull quite a bit of Native American history and sentiment out of his narrative. We found it very entertaining and left him a nice tip. He had very authentic hair. He told us his favorite Lakota joke, giving us a sense of Native American humor. As a setup, the Lakota are considered, simultaneously, the low life of Native Americans, and the fiercest warriors. So, the joke goes as two old natives, a Crow and a Lakota, sit talking: Says the old Crow to the old Lakota, “We used to raid your villages and steal your women and your horses.” The old Lakota considers this for a while, and then responds “When we raided your villages we saw your women, and that’s why we only stole horses”. A little pee might have come out.

Gary barely stopped talking long enough to take a breath. What a guy.

Next post: we reveal our Deadwood Day, and our bonus side trip, Wall Drug!

And here’s a tip from Tippy, a big Miles Davis fan.

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