Monday, September 9, 2013

Idaho, Washington, Seattle - We've Arrived!

To see ALL the photos from our trip, just click HERE.

Sep 9, 2013

Well our long journey is coming to an end. This Wednesday we return to New York, flying. We drove one of Dani and Erik's two cars all the way here, covering some 12 states and some 3,200 miles, including a stop at my sister's house in Ohio for a few days. It was very tiring but quite an adventure. I come away with a rewnewed appreciation of the immense size of our country and the incredible beauty, particularly of the western states with their forests, mountains and waterways. I am also thankful to those pioneers who had the foresight to fight for the preservation of these vast areas of beauty and wilderness so that they remain unspoiled from deforestation, mining and commercial exploitation for all time to come. This is a precious gift that we must be vigilant to protect for there are those who would undo that protection. Think "drill baby, drill!"

Our route, from shore to shining shore.


After Glacier National Park, we took US Route 2 west through Montana to the Idaho border. Here we crossed that state's panhandle - the slender finger of Idaho that points north to separate Montana and Washington. We were on our way to Spokane where we'd stop for the night - our last night on the road. Staying off the interstate in Idaho, our route took us through some pretty Idaho towns. At Bonners Ferry, we turned south on US Route 95. Had we turned right and headed north, we would have been in Canada in 30 miles, so close were we to the border. The resort town of Sandpoint was situated on a an enormous glacial lake, Lake Pend Oreille and was quite beautiful.

The Famous Potatoes state. We lost another hour here.
We could have turned right here and hit Canada in half an hour...but no passports.
Maybe next time.
Remember, clicking on any photo allows you to see it larger and clearer. Then hit escape to return.
After stopping for the night outside of Spokane, we decided to take a quick spin through town. It's main claim to fame is its waterfall of the same name and it was quite impressive. The power and amount of water allowed the city to build the first hydroelectric plant east of the Mississippi at that location - it still stands today.Back then it powered the city's street cars and streetlights. The city showcased its falls with a lovely park and a couple of foot bridges that span two sections of the river as the water cascades over the falls.

Spokane Falls as it cascades down through the center of the city.
We wandered around the city on foot, three dogs in tow. Some historic old buildings stood out but mostly it was a mix of new skyscrapers and tacky 60's moderne pasted onto and around the older, historic buildings and I thought that poor judgement had been used in preserving their downtown. One glaring example was a gigantic, ugly parking garage that overwhelmed a major downtown intersection. Another was an awful pedestrian overpass, spanning the street below. Why?

This was very peculiar: a pedestrian brdige used to cross the streets.
Behind it a historic old building. Thoughtless design I thought.
After our Spokane tour (for what it was worth), we continued on through Washington state.

An interesting side note on Washington state: Reading the Times on my laptop each night, there was an article that discussed the need for revitalization of labor in this country. Washington state has a strong labor movement that has built long lasting relations with communities throughout the state. The state already has the highest minimum wage in the country, $9.19 per hour and now in the town of Seatac, just south of Seattle, labor and community forces are pushing to organize the low-paid workers at the airport of the same name. They are pushing for a public referendum that would create the country's highest minimum wage, $15.00 per hour. Which just goes to prove the adage that when labor is strong, everyone wins. By "everyone" I refer to the 99 percent of us who make up the great majority of our country.

Back to our trip: The eastern half has vast areas of wide open and arid grasslands - actually a desert. But much has been reclaimed. During the Depression, FDR constructed the Grand Coulee dam (the largest concrete structure in the world!) which was used to electrify the area plus supply water for irrigation that turned the desert into productive farmland. As we traversed Interstate 90, one could see out to the remote horizon at this incredible spread of farmland.

Eastern Washington's wide open spaces - converted desert that
now produces apples, pears and fabulous grapes for wine.
The Columbia basin dominates the eastern two-thirds of the state. The dividing line is the Cascade mountain range which begins after you cross the mighty Columbia River. We wanted to stop and see the Grand Coulee dam but that would have added quite few hours to the trip. As Woody Guthrie called it in his famous song, Roll On Columbia, "the biggest damn thing ever built by the hand," the construction put thousands back to work in the hard-hit West of the depression years and helped build prosperity for Americans out of despair -- a tremendous lesson for today. Listen to Country Joe McDonald sing Guthrie's song here or click PLAY below:

We crossed the Columbia River as traveled into western Washington.
Took our breath away with its awesome beauty!

Stacey looks out over an incredible valley carved by the mighty Columbia.

The western third of the state contains the Cascade mountains beyond which are Seattle and the Pacific. We finished our trip and reached Poulbo and Dani and Eric's new house late Thursday afternoon. We were tired and exhilarated. I don't know the next time we'll make such a trip but if we do, it'll definitely be without three dogs in the back of the car. There will plenty to explore out here over the next two years (that's the length of Erik's assignment). So fly or drive ... we'll be back. 

I sincerely hope you enjoyed taking the trip with us.

Happy trails!

To see ALL the photos from our trip, just click HERE.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Chillin' Out In Glacier National Park

Sep 6, 2013

Note: To see the rest of my Glacier National Park photos, click HERE.
also note, that you can click on any photo below to see it larger.

We left the lovely town of Missoula on Wednesday morning and headed north up towards Glacier National Park. But first we stopped to pick up sandwiches for a picnic enroute at a highly-recommended Italian deli: Tagliare.

Missoulian sandwich shop, Tagliare. Super!
We took I-90 for five miles out of town and then left it for U.S. Route 93 North. This took us through the Mission Valley with stunning view of the Mission Mountain range to the east. A sign explained that as late as 1910 the valley was almost entirely "virgin prairie, unplowed, unfenced and beautiful to see." Well, it was certainly still beautiful and still wide open spaces. But I felt a sense of wonderment that the land around us was not that far removed from the days when bison roamed these grasslands free and unimpeded and the native people subsisted off, and in harmony with, the land and its creatures. I love the idea of being able to touch history and here it felt like you were.

The magnificent Mission Mountain range. 

It was here that we got our first sight of the wild fires that are ravishing the west this year. Wisps of smoke were visible and a local told us that they were unable to land fire fighters because the fire was on a knife edge of the mountain that was too hazardous to get to. The hope was that rain would put it out or that it would burn its way uphill and run out of fuel, in this case trees. If bad luck prevailed though, it would run downhill and "there are houses there and ... " Her voice trailed off before completing the sentence.

As we got closer to Glacier National Park we stopped in a small town on its southern end and I picked up an Americano at one of the many espresso shacks that are so popular out here, probably coming east from nearby Washington, coffee capitol of the country. They are everywhere on the roads that we traveled. I'm thinking that espresso was probably unknown in these parts ten years ago but now these little roadside kiosks are ubiquitous. And, good news, they all seem to be local enterprises and the coffee was great!

We saw dozens of these little espresso shacks. Each one is decorated by its owner in a
 bright and lively design.  Cute and very good coffee too!

Driving on, we came to Flathead Lake, an enormous body of pristine water, along whose eastern shore we drove as we approached the park. It was here, in Yellow Bay State Park that we stopped to enjoy our picnic as we looked out at the beautiful lake.

A picnic lunch on Yellow Bay - Flathead Lake.
After lunch we drove a bit more and reached the entrance to the park. The road took along McDonald Lake, the largest lake in the park. At the northern end of that beautiful body of water stood one of those old, rustic and magnificent mountain lodges. We decided to check it out and entering decided that this would be a nice place to spend a few days - a comfortable and cozy headquarters for day hikes or boating.
McDonald Lodge. It's perched on a pristine lake and
surrounded by towering mountains. Rutic - inside and out
Stacey at the entrance to Glacier.
Beautiful McDonald Lodge, perched on the northern end of the lake of the same name.
Now the road was climbing higher and higher, clinging precariously to the side of the mountains, an amazing engineering feat. The views, as we turned each curvy switchback, awesome. We were headed to Logan Pass in the middle of the park. Snow was packed in crevasses at the higher elevations. Waterfalls came pouring down ravines that the water had carved over time - some spurted out from the side of a moutain and free fell hundreds of feet down into the valley far below. Truly breathtaking.

The road is carved into the edge of the mountain - driving is a little daunting
but the views -- awesome and breathtaking.

Looking out at from where we came. 
Reaching Logan Pass we turned back. We had a several hour ride to reach our hotel in Kalispel, Montana. From there we would drive into and across the Idaho Panhandle and stop in Spokane, Washington, our last night out before reaching Poulsbo and Dani and Erik's new home.

But more on that in my very last post. Stay tuned. Ciao, baby!  - Matt

To see the rest of my Glacier National Park photos, click HERE.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Missoula, Montana. A Sweet Little Town.

Sep 5, 2013 - (Writing From Spokane, Washington)

** At the bottom of this post you can see the rest of my Missoula photos by following a link **

After the mini-fiasco of a late day visit to Yellowstone and then a long, long nightime drive to Bozeman and a hotel, we needed a rest. So leaving Bozeman we headed further west on Interstate 90 to Missoula, Montana, a sweet college town nestled in mountains with the Clark Fork river running through it, it has a youthful and liberal sensibility.

Missoula had been a sleepy little crossroads until the Northern Pacific railroad came to town in 1883 and transformed it into a prosperous commercial center and helping build the local lumber industry. Today, the lumber industry has long departed and the University of Montana is the largest employer.

Missoula Country Court House
It was good to sleep late and not to have to drive for hours. So we took our time and wandered around the town. Our friend Jane has family in Missoula. She supplied us with a list of restaurants and other points of interest and that helped us explore.

A "mirror" shot
One of the things we had been noting as we were driving through the west was the popularity of bicycle touring. We saw cyclists, fully loaded with bags and supplies, rolling up steep mountains, bound for destinations far away. One guy replied, when I asked him where he was coming from, said "Jackson, Wyoming.," That was hundreds of miles distant. Impressive. Some people are very adventurous and I love that. The town itself was very bicycle oriented with lot of dedicated cycle paths and lots and lots of people commuting around the city on two wheels and under their own power. Many of those were students but I also saw many older people going here and there by bike - the town has made it very easy for them.
Missoula actively promotes cycling and it's a destination for cyclists from all over.

Bikes all over town. Nice!

We really loved Montana. There are less than a million people in the entire state. But what amazing beauty! After two nights inMissoula, we'd travel north through the Mission Valley, past enormous Flathead Lake and into the remote and incredibly beautiful Glacier National Park. What a great trip this has been!  Later!

Missoula is nestled in the mountain. It's a center for lovers of nature, bikers and hikers.
In five minutes you can leave the city and find yourself in rugged and beautiful forest and mountain.

See the rest of my Missoula photos HERE.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Oh Yellowstone!
But Oh So Short!

Sep 2, 2013

Labor Day weekend was a day away and we were having trouble finding a hotel room in Missoula for Saturday and Sunday. Checking various hotels on my computer in our hotel room in Sheridan, Wyoming, I came up with, er, zero availability. Why had we been so tardy in checking?

We've become very laid back travelers in recent years. I blame this, partly, on the advent of smart phones and partly on being jaded and experienced sojourners. Now we no longer buy tour books or maps, believing, stupidly, that we can do everything on a phone or computer. That got us into a lot of trouble last summer in the U.K. when driving, with friends Janie and Mark, from the Cotswolds to Wales. "Don't worry, I'll use Google Maps and GPS on my phone," I had boasted. The only problem with that idea is that you have to have cellular service for it to work and that turned out to be very spotty or non-existant in rural sections of England. As a result we ended up going around in a big circle leaving Stow-On-The-Wold and then finding ourselves right back where we had started an hour before! Likewise, when we crossed from England to Wales and within striking distance of our destination, an hour later we came across a sign that said "Welcome To England" ... we were back at the border! Funny but it didn't seem funny when it happened as it turned a four hour trip into seven!

Anyway, what to do about that problem of no hotel rooms (remember, travelling with three dogs in the back seat, leaves us with fewer choices to start with)? Finally we decided that we'd cut west through Yellowstone Park instead of skirting it and heading to Missoula. And after Yellowstone, we'd stop for Saturday night in Bozeman instead of Missoula, pushing our arrival there forward to Sunday and Monday. That new combination of room requests worked. But we didn't realize how long the trip to and through Yellowstone would take and how late in the day we'd reach the park (almost at sunset).

Truthfully, Yellowstone deserves a week not a late afternoon excursion. Sitting in a Mexican restaurant in the sweet town of Cody at 4 o'clock, Stacey suggested we stay there for the night, tour Yellowstone the next day (Sunday) and then hit Missoula on Monday. A perfectly sane and logical idea which I, as a stubborn old man, thought ridiculous. She was right. I was wrong. Having said that, Yellowstone was gorgeous and Bighorn National Forest, which we had to cross first, took our breath away with its rugged mountains, twisty-turny road with a multitude of switchbacks and spectacular views.

Beginning at Sheridan, we crossed Bighorn, had a late lunch at Cody, then continued into Yellowstone.
Finally a long, long (and dark) drive to our Saturday night hotel in Bozeman, Montana.
CLICK MAP to see it large.

Pyramid Peak viewed from a turnout in  Bighorn National Forest.
More people live on my block in Brooklyn than in Shell, Montana.
The sun was about to set as we finally hit Yellowstone Park. The first things to greet us as we rounded a curve were a trio of enormous bison. They plodded slowly right toward us, giving us a jolt and a scare though they didn't even look at us as they passed our car.

Rounding a bend in the road, who should we see but three beautiful beasts.

Though it was late in the day it was still beautiful to see vast Yellowstone Lake. It brought back memories of my last trip there in 1965 with my dear friend Lonnie. But this time, sadly, huge areas of the park had been hit in recent years by forest fires and blackened stalks of pine trees lined the sides of mountains. New growth was already replacing the old, burned trees but news reports say that this season out west is the worst one ever. Another sign of the fragile and perilous state of our environment (GOP foolish naysayers notwithstanding).
Beautiful Lake Yellowstone brought back memories of my last trip in 1965.

Large tracts of  fire-damaged pine forest greeted our view.
We drove half way around the lake and saw still more bison feasting on long grass next to a campground. They ignored the humans who were ogling them, preferring the long grass to chatting with people. With one last view of the sunset-lit lake, we continued on for another two hours in the dark, to our hotel room in Bozeman. Tomorrow we would head for Missoula where we'd stay two days on the recommendation of our friend Jane who has family there. She visits regularly and highly recommends exploring this sweet college town. On that, more in my next post.

Can you wait till then?

 - Matt

Bison feeding on long grass right next to a campground. Humans? Whatever.

Our last view of Yellowstone Lake, lit by sunset.
Again, click to see full size!
To see the rest of today's photos go HERE.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Spectacular South Dakota

Sep 1, 2013

I'm writing from Missoula, Montana but you won't get to read about that until ... whenever.

I'm always a day or three behind on my blog. First, driving many hours a day leaves me very tired at the end of the day to edit photos and extract words to put down on "paper" a composed blog post. Like George Bush said about his job at the White House - "it's not easy." And, by the time I get around to it, I've forgotten where we've been on what day. Looking at the photos helps a bit. But, by George, it's not easy. Also, and this may only be a perception, I'm more tired at the end of the day than I used to be.

I left you last time while we were crossing the Mississippi River from Minnesota to South Dakota. If Minnesota was wide open with vast corn fields, western South Dakota was even more so. We had spent the night well off the Interstate in Kasson, Minnesota, a speck of a town, sixteen miles wet of Rochester, home of the famous Mayo clinic. 

Entering South Dakota just east of the state's
largest city, Sioux Falls.
Note: you can see any photo larger and clearer 
by simply clicking on it.

The next morning we stayed off the Interstate, driving west instead on U.S. Route 14. That took us through tiny towns and endless farmland as we drove 235 miles from our motel in Minnesota to South Dakota and that state's largest city, Sioux Falls. We met the kids there to give Ethan his video game charger that had been left in our car by mistake. We also stopped for lunch after visiting the falls that gave the city its name. The Big Sioux river had been diverted during the ice age, causing it to cut an impressive waterfall through red rock that was scattered all around the city's park.

The waterfall that gives SD's largest city its name: Sioux Falls.
After lunch we  continued on our way and made a quick stop in the small town of Mitchell whose only claim to fame is its Corn Palace. This building, a multi-purpose arena, community center, meeting place  has a facade that is decorated, and changed annually, entirely with corn products: cobs, husks, fibers and other grains. It's quite a site to see. Otherwise, Mitchell Shmitchell. 

Mitchell, South Dakota's famous Corn Palace, decorated
entirely with corn cobs, husks, etc.

Look closely (click the picture for a larger view). Corn cobs, husks, fibers
and other grains are used to decorate this enormous building. Changed annually.

Further west we crossed the Missouri River and staying, again off the Interstate, in South Dakota's very small and parochial city of Pierre. Even though we had driven west after crossing the river on I-90, our hotel in Pierre was on that great river as well. That's because the Missouri comes from way out west - its headwaters are in western Montana. I Googled "Missouri River" to find out that it's the longest tributary in North America running some 2,341 miles to join the Mississippi just north of St. Louis. 

Read more here about this important river that was explored by Lewis and Clark as they were looking, unsuccesfully,  for a Northwest Passage.  It's a treasure that's rich in American history.

Crossing the Missouri River . You're looking north at I-90 below.

We left Pierre and again drove along U.S. Route 14, preferring to see the non-Interstate America. All along the way we were being beckoned to stop in Wall, SD, which is the gateway to the Badlands, one of our must-sees for this trip. In Wall was the famous Wall Drug Store, which might have been a pharmacy once upon a time (founded in 1937). Now it's a hokey collection of stores that sell South Dakota shtick, western art and Dakotan tourist mementos (made in China). It wasn't worth the stop.

Wall, South Dakota's Wall Drug store. A tourist stop if you
want some SD shtick and other hokey souvenenirs. 
Biggie meets bison (stuffed).
Wall Drug was not worth the stop but it was, indeed, the door to the Badlands. Right outside of town we got on the loop road into that amazing area which is hard to describe in words. Here's the Wikipedia description:
A badlands (also badland) is/are a type of dry terrain where softer sedimentary rocks and clay-rich soils have been extensively eroded by wind and water. It can resemble malpaís, a terrain of volcanic rock. Canyons, ravines, gullies, hoodoos and other such geological forms are common in badlands. They are often difficult to navigate by foot. Badlands often have a spectacular color display that alternates from dark black/blue coal stria to bright clays to red scoria.
In 1935, the famous architecht Frank Lloyd Wright wrote --
"I've been about the world a lot and pretty much over our own country, but I was totally unprepared for that revelation called the Dakota Bad Lands... What I saw gave me indescribable sense of mysterious otherwhere." 
And Matthew Weinstein wrote -
"This is one hell of a crazy, unworldly, moon-like landscape unlike anything you can imagine." 
It took us several hours to traverse the beautiful loop road that took us around and through this breathtaking geography. The National Park Service, which has been slashed to shreds by the GOP-inspired sequester and cutbacks and their loathing of "big government,"  has done a magnificent job of preserving this spectacular region and allowing Americans an easy but gentle access to it. I cannot imagine what would be left of our precious National Parks if they were allowed to carry their extreme positions to fruition. And say thanks to that Park Ranger and the NPS. They do such great work with so little in resources.

The Beautiful and the Bad. Stacey at a viewpoint in Badlands National Park.

Other worldy Badlands. (Click for a large view).

Press PLAY ► (above)  for a short video tour of the Dakota Badlands.

After completing our Badlands tour we continued driving, out of South Dakota and into Wyoming. We stopped in Sheridan. From there we'd venture into Yellowstone, the crown jewel of the National Parks system. But that was more of an adventure than a venture. But to find out why, you'll have to stay tuned for my next post.  Until then....a bientot.  - Matt

Welcome to Wyoming - wild and wide open!

Driving toward our motel in Sheridan, Wyoming -- our first view of the Rockies. Wow!

To see the rest of today's photos just click HERE.

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Wide Open Spaces
And Lots Of Corn!

Aug 30, 2013

Writing this post on Friday, August 31st from Sheridan, Wyoming, just outside Yellowstone Park. We've been putting on the miles and I'm tired at the end of the day. I feel like the guy in Woody Gutrhie's song, Hard Travelin' -- take a listen

We left Duba and Buddy on Wednesday, bound for the Chicago area where we'd exchange kids for two more dogs (we already had our Biggie with us): Brooklyn and Annapolis - Dani's cocker spaniels and our grand-dogs. We were worried about travelling another full day's drive with the kids but that concern was misplaced - they did well and were tuned in to the countryside and towns that we were passing through. There was a constant banter and lots of questions about things that we passed.

We left Duba and Buddy and continued on our way.
Destination: Merrillville, Indiana - just south of Chicago.
This is the main crossroads in the small Ohio town of New Philadlephia:
"Welome To Our City."
Driving through Ohio we ended up in Merrillville, Indiana. I guess there might be an actual town there but, as you must know if you've ever traversed America's Interstates, each exit is a horrible collection of chain hotels, chain eateries and other signs of corporate domination of travel. Stacey and I try our best to eat healthy food but it really is a severe test of one's commitment to do that when you're on the road. Family-owned restaurants with home-made fare have largely disappeared from the scene. We've managed, like detectives, to find them here and there in our travels and it's always a reward when you do, but, travelling with kids who don't eat a wide variety of foods makes it even more challenging. So after unpacking in our Merrillville hotel, we tried an Outback Steakhouse, thinking "how bad could it be?" This is how bad: the bill came to $100.00 (yes, we had a few drinks - we deserved them, didn't we, after 10 hours of driving)? For that we got two disgusting inedible hamburgers with fries for the children. Why inedible? Because even Ethan complained that he couldn't eat it because "it's too salty Grandpa." I tasted it -- it was awful! Our so-called steaks didn't resemble meat either in taste or texture. It had obviously been brined or rubbed in some concoction. Outback prides itself on its "down under" origins so all its food is "seasoned" with spices that supposedly reflect Australian cooking. Basically, that comes down to SALT and more SALT! That was the flavor of the steak that they served. Regarding texture: none; just easy-to-chew, tenderized meat rather more like chewing on a soggy sponge than steak. Awful, awful, awful!

The next day I ruminated over this beautiful country of ours and the contradictions - the magnificent open spaces, the incredible variety of landscapes, the beautiful old towns and farms that we passed. And the vast wasteland of corporate-dominated crossroads at Interstate exits offering nothing to dine in but McDonald's, Wendy's, Hardees, Subways, Outbacks, Pizza Huts and on and on, ad nauseum. So very sad what they've done to our land and to our people. Talking about people, folks fed this stuff as a constant in their lives become used to it and actually begin to crave it, seeing it as the normand the gold standard in dining. That's even more tragic as the impact on American's health is evident in the obesity epidemic when your diet consists largely of fat and salt. Disease such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease is on the rise as well. Outback Salthouse is what it should be called - maybe that would warn people to stay away.

Back at the hotel, after that disastrous dinner, the kids fell asleep quickly and so did we.
Stopping on the road for a
chocolate dip.
Sammy - Yummy!

Sammy sleeping with his teddy.

Why being a grandparent is about the best thing
that can happen to you in life: our grandsons!

We met Dani and Erik the next morning at a Starbucks in a Chicago suburb. We changed cars - they took the Toyota Highlander, we the Camry. Suitcases and other items were changed. The kids continued with them - it was hard to say goodbye because of the great few days we had spent together. The dogs were secured in the back seat of our car and we went our ways. They drove through Wisconsin and into Minnesota, spending the night in Albert Lea. We followed on but behind them, stopping along the way to admire the sights. We crossed from Wisconsin to Minnesota over the mighty Mississippi just as a modern paddle wheeling tour boat was making its way through a lock as it plied its way north.

Stacey, Annie, Brookie and Biggie at the Wisconsin / Minnesota border.

Paddle wheeler approaching a lock on the Mississippi River, heading north toward Minneapolis
We had a more difficult time than Dani and family finding lodging. We had the dogs and most motels don't accept them. A few chains do, though many add exorbitant fees, up to $100 extra, per pet, non-refundable! But a very few, La Quinta and Americinn, are truly pet-friendly and don't charge any fees or if they do, mnimal amounts. So we had to hunt for those and sometimes get well off the interstate to find one. So we ended up in Kasson, Minnesota, about 20 miles west of Rochester, the home of the Mayo Clinic.  The latter town, a big, upscale burg (because of the clinic no doubt) allowed us to shop for dinner at a Trader Joe's and we ate salads and sushi in our hotel room that night - no more salt licks for us!

Dani discovered that Ethan's DS (a video game) charger had been left in our car. So we agreed to meet the next day in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. That, by the way is the largest city in the state with a population of 105,000.
The falls at Sioux Falls, SD. The Big Sioux river,
diverted by the ice age carved a new path and
cut through the red rock of the area.

South Dakota is a very large state with a very small population. It's beautiful beyond words. We had driven across Minnesota, land of 15,000 lakes, and were impressed by the vast farms that surrounded us on both sides of the road, stretching away to the horizon. As in Minnesota, the fields contained infinite amounts of corn or alternately, soybeans, but it was the corn that amazed us because we now saw, in person, just how dominant this crop has become. Corn production is subsidized by you and me (the taxpayers) to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars over five years that goes into the pockets of huge agri-businesses. This makes corn prices artificially so low that corn sweetener - high fructose corn syrup - has replaced sugar as the sweetener of choice in many American food products. And that's bad for our health.
Mitchell, South Dakota's Corn Palace - redecorated each year with
a different motif and made from thousands and thousands
of corn cobs, husks, fibers. Crazy and corny!

Corn is king in Minnesota and South Dakota
Endless miles of cornfields stretch out to the horizon
and hundreds of these corn storage and processing plants.

A vast wind farm in Minnesota with hundreds of turbines
stretching as far as the eye could see.
When we crossed the Missouri River somewhere around the middle of South Dakota, the topography changed quickly. Now there were more rolling hills and more cattle. Instead of corn we saw vast fields of sunflowers - golden fields that stretched out to the horizon. South Dakota, to our surprise, is the second largest producer of that plant.

But more of that part of South Dakota, its awesome Badlands and then Wyoming in my next post. Right now: sleep.
Zzzzzzzzzzz - Matt