This is the last blog of our amazing trip, and, having been chauffeur, bellboy, pack-mule, and concierge, I thought it appropriate I do at least one blog so I can add “writer” to my resume, which certainly needs padding to help me get a job! It will cover quite a bit, so before heading down that last leg, I thought I’d list a few milestones we accomplished over the last few weeks:
Miles driven: 9800
States visited: 23 (including North Carolina :)
National Parks/Monuments explored: 11
Pictures taken: approximately 2100
Cost of Trip………………….Priceless (Scared to add it all up!)
So, our last post was from Devils Tower in South Dakota. The next stop was Mount Rushmore, a monument most kids never heard of until seeing National Treasure 2. We debated whether to keep this on our itinerary, or to swing by Nauvoo, Illinois for some church history, but decided to stick to the plan.
We were glad we did. It may not be as flashy as some of the other parks and monuments, but when we saw it, we were truly touched, and not just by the stifling heat of South Dakota. We saw a film about the man who had the vision to take on such a project, Gutzon Borglum, and all the work done by so many men to bring it about. At the time, some people thought it would be a blight on the South Dakota landscape. The four Presidents carved there-George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln (Logan has to remind me of the correct order) were chosen for their great vision and leadership, and their dedication to protecting and preserving our country. It is truly breathtaking. We hiked up and down lots of steps to see the visitors center and other angles of viewing the quartet. Later we loaded up and left once again with the question of would we EVER get out of South Dakota. Little did we know…….
Soon, we saw signs for the “world famous Corn Palace”. Well we had actually seen this on the travel channel and couldn’t pass it up. It is in Mitchell, South “get us outta here” Dakota.
The entire outside is made of corncobs of different colored corn. It has to be redone each year using 275,000 new ears of corn, and each year they decorate it with a different theme. We walked around and took a few pictures and headed on. For several miles, we kept seeing billboards advertising “Wall Drug” in the town of ‘Wall”, so of course we had to check it out. It was apparently a very popular nostalgic drugstore of days gone by, but is now surrounded by several shops and fun items to do and watch. Along the walls, there were life-like figures of old-timey people. I know-sounds riveting. They had a juke machine with several instruments inside (banjo, guitar, drums, etc.) that played old songs. There were water “spouts” that shot up from the cement through holes, and they had animals and a stagecoach you could sit on for pictures.
Next, we rode through Badlands, another National Park. It resembles the Grand Canyon, only less canyon and less…well, grand. The colors were beautiful, but the wind was ferocious.
We got out a couple of times for short walks, but after Spenser saw the rattlesnake warning on the sign we headed back to the car. We stopped at the visitors center there, then moved on, still trying to escape from South Dakota’s grasp. We finally made it into Minnesota. It was a beautiful area and once again, we were entertained by the windmills. There weren’t nearly as many, but enough to be the focus of the landscape there. We went on to the Mall of America, in St. Paul. It was pretty massive. Aside from the three levels of stores, they had a full sized amusement park in the middle-I mean log ride, roller coaster-the works. We didn’t spend too much time here and were soon heading southward towards St. Louis, by way of Wisconsin. Amy and I love cows, but didn’t see as many as we anticipated, but the landscape was beautiful. And for some reason, Wisconsin is the waterpark capital of the world. They are everywhere! In fact, we stayed in a hotel called the Cranberry Lodge, that had an indoor water park (a small one). So we all had a blast playing there for the evening.
Next, we headed for our last attraction, the Saint Louis Arch. We made our way to the arch, but before I paid Ivan, the parking guy, my parking fee, I asked if we’d have time for the arch. Sure, he said. It is open until 9:00 or 10:00. So we walked the streets of St. Louis until we came to the base of the Arch. It is tall from a mile away, but when you’re standing under, looking straight up, it takes your breath away.
So we go in through the body-searching park rangers who told us we had about 10 minutes until they closed. “What”, we asked, “happened to 9:00 or 10:00”? “Oh, that starts tomorrow.” Ivan must have been on ‘Russian Standard Time’. Or more likely he was on ‘milk the goober from North Carolina’ Standard Time. So, we headed back, got some dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory, and went back to the hotel for a swim. The next morning we walked over and got to the arch fairly early. We got our tickets and as we waited our turn, walked through the visitors center/museum. As always, lots of stuff to learn. There was lots about Lewis and Clark and Sacajawea, also of National Treasure fame. Well, our time arrived to catch the tram to the top. This is when we learned that the same word can mean different things in different states or cities. The Saint Louis definition of “tram” is a little different than San Antonio’s definition. And of course everything has to be bigger in Texas, but this was a little ridiculous. The 5 of us could hardly fit in it. If I could have stood up, which I couldn’t, I could easily touch both sides without straightening our my arms. It was basically a cantaloupe that they had hollowed out and cut a door out of.
Amy, who is claustrophobic, and Logan, who is afraid of heights, may have been a little more scared than Madison, but it’s a close call.
We all piled in happily and waited for the fun to begin. It was about a 4 minute ride to the top. At least we had light and air. And they played some history about the arch as we “enjoyed” the tram. Finally at the top, the view was incredible. There were lots of people there and you had to wait your turn to climb up and lay flat on your tummy on the inclined wall to look down and out of the postage-stamp sized windows.What a great view! You could see much of the city, the ball fields, the river with tugs and barges, and lots of ants on the ground below. I think we could still see South Dakota. Before long-after about a minute after arriving at the top-Mom and Logan were ready to go! I think they just wanted another ride in the tram. Spenser and I loved the view, but reluctantly, we headed back down. There was a Cardinals-Royals ball game just getting ready to start, and we thought about going, but thought we needed to hit the road.
We headed out and made it as far as West Virginia late that night. The next day we went back by the Jenkins’ house, not knowing that the Finlayson’s were there. We all spent the night there and the next day, arrived back in Greenville. We have enjoyed sharing our journey with you, thanks mostly to Madison who did almost all of the blog-work. It was a once-in-a-lifetime family adventure. Problem is, we're ready to do it again tomorrow! Happy Trails to you all!