Travelogue – Finding America Part One

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August 15, 2022 by Scott Crosby - Views: 70

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Travelogue – Finding America Part One

Our trip began with two goals in mind:  to see my sister get married in Illinois, and to visit Rhoda’s brother and sisters in Arizona.  

Being retired, time was not an issue.  We had the time to go anywhere we wanted.  Why not make it a single trip, adding in sights we would like to see along the way?  If it takes a month, who cares?

On the whole, the entire trip was limited to first-time visits.  We would pass by a number of great places which we had visited in the past.

The Grand Tour

Gibbon Falls

For two months, we made plans, laid out a route and a schedule, studied the gas prices along the way, filled in the day-by-day details, made motel reservations, coordinated dates with family members and friends we would see en route, and fit together all the pieces into an itinerary.  

Ultimately, our Grand Tour’s itinerary called for a journey of 24 days.  Traveling by car, we covered 6,641.1 miles.  We crossed 20 states, plus a visit to one more state during our stay with Rhoda’s daughter.

On the seventh of July, we headed up I-85 and I-26, and were soon crossing the Smokies on I-40.  Let the journey begin!  

Once through the Smokies, we turned northward on I-75, and passed a number of exits to roads with names like, “Stinking Creek Road”.  Either somebody had a sense of humor, or wanted to discourage potential neighbors.  

Still in Tennessee, we passed exit signs pointing up the mountain on our right, to “Rocky Top”.  Ever hear the song about Rocky Top?  If not, be sure you do.  

“Corn don’t grow too well on Rocky Top; dirt’s too rocky by far.  

That’s why all the folks on Rocky Top get their corn from a jar.  

Rocky Top, you’ll always be home, sweet home to me!  

Good ol’ Rocky Top!  Rocky Top, Tennessee!”

We drove on, heading westward through Kentucky to Louisville, and crossed into Indiana for our first overnight stop in Indianapolis.

Leaving the next morning, we were already more than a half-hour west on I-74 when the cell-phone rang.  We had somehow failed to do our usual careful check before departure, and had left our old laptop PC behind.  Would they ship it home for us please?  No problem, they said.  

First problem of the trip solved.

Emerald Spring

Throughout our trip, road construction was a constant factor.  Particularly in northern states, wintry snows and low temperatures dictate the terms:  make repairs in the summer.  Single-lane traffic past a miles-long work area was common.  

We had barely crossed into Illinois when we had to pull over due to a flat tire.  Some construction debris on a bridge seemed to be the likely culprit, and a big hole in the left rear tire’s sidewall was the result.  Naturally, it was raining.  We had packed bright yellow rain slickers, and now put them on, to change a tire in the rain, with traffic whizzing by just feet away.  

But most traffic graciously moved over into the passing lane.  Thanks, everyone!

Three people pulled over to help.  The first was a young guy in a big black pickup truck.  Four of the wheel lug bolts had already been loosened, but the fifth was too tight.  He managed to loosen it, however, and we thanked him, assuring him we could finish up, letting him be on his way.

The second, a truck driver in an 18-wheeler, made the comment that he would not want to see his parents stranded on the side of a highway somewhere as we were.  Truck drivers are a great bunch!  We were just about finished installing the smaller “donut” spare tire, so he was able to leave.

Steam Vents in Yellowstone

Barely a few minutes later, an Illinois highway repair crew stopped to help.  The donut tire is not meant for extended use, but is intended to be used only until the flat tire can be repaired or replaced.  The highway crew was able to find a couple of tire-repair shops at the next exit.

Our flat tire may have been an unwanted mishap, but we realized what great people we had met as a result.  While we looked forward to many wonderful places to visit, we began to realize that we were finding America, something at least as important.

That afternoon we reached our hotel in Illinois.  We spent the evening meeting the bride, groom, and wedding party for the next day’s big event, but between checking into the motel and heading to the party, a quick visit to a local auto parts store yielded a new 18-inch-long torque wrench, just like the one seen in use at the tire-repair shop.  Now we are truly prepared:  It easily provides enough leverage to assure that we will be able to loosen any future tight lug bolts!

Old Faithful Geyser

The wedding was beautiful and went as planned.  Breakfast with my two sisters and their families the next morning was followed by our journey’s next leg:  on to northeast Iowa to see Rhoda’s daughter Karen, and Ellis.  

As always when we visit, her daughter took us on a tour of several enjoyable destinations in Iowa, southeast Minnesota, and western Wisconsin.  

Knowing of my interest in railroading, she scheduled one particular stop in the town of Rushford, Minnesota, at the Depot Museum.  The curator was very gracious and helpful, printing copies of a number of railroading photos!  

All too soon, we were “on the road again”, westbound on I-90.  The day’s goal was to travel through Minnesota and South Dakota.  Speed limit?  80 miles per hour, hour after hour . . .  

We spent the night in Spearfish, South Dakota, eating dinner at its fabulous Killian’s restaurant.  We had dined there on a previous visit to the beautiful Black Hills in 2019, and made a point to return, specifically for dinner at Killian’s.  

Steam Vents in Yellowstone

It was well worth it.  Dinner was delicious, and our desserts – a slice of crème brulee cheesecake for each of us – was delectable, truly a reason to visit Killian’s all by itself!

The next morning saw us once again sailing along I-90, now through Wyoming and Montana, with their 80 mph speed limits, headed to the town of West Yellowstone, just outside Yellowstone Park.

Entering the Park the next morning, we turned north on the loop road. It was not long before we saw one of Yellowstone’s oddities, a steam vent.  

The entire Yellowstone Park is actually the caldera of a dormant volcano.  Its most recent eruption was 70,000 years ago, and another eruption is likely to be about 100,000 years from now.  

Nevertheless, steam vents and geysers are ever-present in Yellowstone Park.  They are the result of sub-surface water being heated into steam by the hot magma not all that deep underground, which then finds its way through fissures to the surface.  

Rhoda enjoying dinner at
Killian's Restaurant in
Spearfish, South Dakota

Our first stop was to be the Norris Geyser Basin, which, along with the Old Faithful geyser, was one of our two must-see destinations in the Park.  

On the way, however, we made an unplanned stop at Gibbon Falls, which was well worth the time.

The Norris Geyser Basin was as exciting as expected, with its many colorful pools of hot (and poisonous) sulfur water, its steam vents, and its various geysers.

Next stop after the Norris Geyser Basin was the geyser Old Faithful.  Rather than head back along the way we came to reach it, we continued eastwards along the loop road.  Along the way, we visited the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, and stopped to take some pictures of the beautiful Yellowstone Lake as we drove along its shore.  

Old Faithful usually erupts every hour or so, so we took our seats on the benches along with several hundred other people, and began our wait. Two other smaller steam vents were visible in the distance.  All three were active non-stop.

A “rock” about 60 feet away turned out to be a lazy old buffalo laying on the ground and occasionally twitching his tail.   He was clearly interested in neither the ever-present crowds nor the geyser.

The Old Faithful geyser constantly puts out a small amount of steam, but eventually erupted more or less “on schedule”, shooting a large amount of steam several hundred feet into the air, much to everyone’s delight.

The next morning, we drove one last time through Yellowstone Park, heading south.  

But Yellowstone had one last exciting sight to show us:   a line of several steam vents!  

Next Month:  Finding America continues, including the Grand Tetons, traveling through Utah, past the boyhood home of outlaw Butch Cassidy, Arizona’s Grand Canyon, the town of Tombstone, and more!


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