A Day With Mr. Lincoln + Sensational South Dakota

IMG_0961IMG_0943Day 41.

Miles Driven: 365

We spent most of the day in the Illinois state capital: Springfield. (Did you know that Springfield is the most common town name in the USA?) This town is also known for being President Abraham Lincoln’s hometown. Born in Kentucky, Lincoln’s father moved his family to Indiana after losing all his land because of faulty property titles. The family then moved to Illinois after the death of Lincoln’s mother. As a young man, Lincoln helped sail goods down river to New Orleans. It was here that he first witnessed slavery and he walked back home to Illinois.

IMG_3548Back in Illinois, Lincoln owned a general store and ran for General Assembly. Though he lost, he was post master while teaching himself law and ultimately becoming a lawyer. He ran again and was elected to the state legislature. Once becoming a lawyer, he moved to Springfield where he met his future wife, Mary Todd.

Here in Springfield, he became a very successful lawyer. With strong opinions about slavery and creating a modern America, he ran for senator but lost. In 1860, following many speeches, Lincoln was nominated by the Republican Party to run for president. And the rest is history.

Springfield was always considered his home because he lived, worked, and had four sons in this home over 17 years. After leaving to be president in Washington D.C. he never returned to Springfield. But, his home has become a landmark ever since he stepped into the political limelight. Now, the National Park Service has preserved the four blocks surrounding Lincoln’s Springfield home including over 30 buildings that are being restored to their 1800s glory.

IMG_0952IMG_0954We really enjoyed visiting his home and seeing the living history characters wander the streets and acting like Lincoln and Mary. It was amazing how intelligent Lincoln was. He was an inventor, great orator, and seemed like an all around nice guy. On the house tour, we were not allowed to touch any of the original furnishings but it was great to be in the rooms where he developed much of his political stances. However, when we climbed the stairs we were told these were the original handrails and to use them just as Lincoln did.

We drove past the capitol later and enjoyed a picnic lunch before heading out on the next stretch towards the west coast. We crossed back across the Mississippi River and stopped for the night in Des Moines, IA.

IMG_0969Day 42.

Miles Driven: 667

We drove and drove and drove for, yes, 667 miles across through more cornfields, across the Missouri River and into South Dakota. The second we crossed the Missouri, the landscaped changed from crop fields to prairie. We learned that prairie is a unique kind of landscape. It is too dry to sustain trees but not dry enough to be called a desert. Just grass as far as the eye can see.

IMG_0960IMG_0964IMG_0974Our straight shot across south South Dakota was long and our game to keep us awake was to count all of the billboards for Wall Drug. Wall Drug is a unique shopping mall and is one of the most popular tourist attractions in South Dakota. You can find and eat just about everything in this store. So, how many billboards did we see? 81 while driving west on I-90.

_MG_1277From Wall, we drove just half an hour to the west entrance of the Badlands National Park. Both the Lakota and French explorers named the area “Bad Lands” or “Land that is bad to cross” which describes the eroded buttes, pinnacles, and spires that sink down from the prairie. Upon entering the park we were greeted by a herd of big horn sheep. We drove down to the base of the pinnacles and cooked dinner at a picnic area. At sunset, the landscape seemed to become more and more desolate. We felt like we were on the moon. It was so quiet and our only company were the bugs. Eventually, the emptiness turned to creepiness and we were consumed by bugs. We quickly jumped in the car, hot rice still in our cook pot, and sped off to our campsite in Rapid City.


IMG_0985Day 43.

Miles Driven: 522

Rapid City sits at the base of the Black Hills State Park. We set off into the Black Hills to see one of the most incredible National Memorials: Mount Rushmore.

IMG_0973My first impression of the monument was that it would just be a tourist trap, but the exhibit was so interesting! We did not realize how much skill was put into the creation of the four faces in the mountain. In 1927, the governor of South Dakota commissioned sculptor Gutzon Borglum to create a great monument of the west, such as a sculpture of Lewis and Clark out of the pinnacles of the Black Hills. Borglum suggested using the granite face of Mount Rushmore to carve a memorial of national importance. He chose the faces of the presidents who helped progress the American dream. George Washington for birthing the nation, Thomas Jefferson for the Declaration of Independence and the Louisiana Purchase, Abe Lincoln for perusing equality and preserving the union, and Teddy Roosevelt for guiding the nation through economic expansion, constructing the Panama Canal, and creating the National Park Service.

_MG_1281_MG_1283I was so amazed by how the faces were created. The sculptor, Borglum, had initially planned on using a chisel to carve the faces but quickly switched to controlled dynamite. The workers would hang on lines that dangled over the cliff face, drill carefully calculated holes and fit the small charges of dynamite, blast at lunch, and repeat again in the afternoon. They could easily make an eye or lip in a day. They would then burnish the stone to make it smooth. Over 12 years, they created the four faces that is now Mount Rushmore and would have continued to add more detail had finances not been diverted to WWII.IMG_0982

Seeing Mount Rushmore almost felt like a little conclusion to our Grand Adventure (not quite because we still have a few more stops) because we were able to see a great monument to many of the presidents we have and had visited during our trips. It was a heart warming memorial that made me feel proud!

IMG_0986We spent the afternoon continuing our drive west through the Black Hills, into Wyoming, and over the Rockies. We wound our way through passes and valleys. It was a beautiful drive even through a huge truck kicked up a rock and put a big chip in our windshield. Gah! We drove till dark and found a room in a little inn just outside of Grand Teton. So excited for tomorrow!

Total Miles: 9,190


Upstate New York

IMG_0876IMG_0883Day 35.

Miles Driven: 302

We left Philly early to make the final push up the east coast. My Uncle Peter and Aunt Lois live in upstate New York and my Uncle Rupert and Aunt Diane would be meeting us there for lunch. Our lovely GPS got us there safely while taking us on every toll road. Being from California, toll roads are a very rare sight for us and we were quite surprised when we had to shell out $16.00 on the New Jersey Turnpike. Oh well, but we did get to see a great view of New York City from across the Hudson River. I was amazed by how tall the new World Trade Center towers are.

IMG_0884We all were at Uncle Peter’s by noon and enjoyed BBQ pork, rice, and bean salad. Yum! I love it when my mom and her siblings get together. They are so funny to listen to as they trade stories of the past. Uncle Peter and Uncle Rupert were excited to see our car-RV sleeping arrangements and gave us ideas for fixing the leaky car and the vibration while braking.

We had a huge thunder storm tonight. Lots of thunder and lightning and the lights went out for a while. We all spent the evening play cards by candlelight.

Day 36.

Uncle Peter had to leave for work very early while we took the morning easy. We were able to meet up with him in the afternoon near the town of New Paltz. We wanted to visit the Historic Huguenot Street.

The Huguenots, a group of French Protestants trying to escape religious persecution in Catholic France, had established this beautiful town and historic street. They first left France for Germany and then settled in, what was, America’s Dutch Colony. They became a very eclectic town filled with people from several different cultures. The tour was very interesting and brought us through their worship building and several original homes. Many homes were built in the 1680s and have recently been restored by their decedents. Two of the homes even had characters acting like people from that era and interpreting the current political climate. A very nice tour.

Day 37.

Miles Driven: 239

We packed in the morning and spent some time at the car mechanic. Turned out, our rotors warped at some point, causing the car to vibrate when we braked. All fixed now! We drove an hour to Uncle Peter’s work where he is the supervisor of the wood shop at a construction company. He does custom cabinetry and other wood details for new construction and historic restoration jobs. He can do some amazing work. It was fun to peek into his workshop and see what he can do. Currently, his company is working at Vassar Collage and restoring a beautiful ceiling with lots of crumbling plaster work. He was able to salvage a few florets, make a mold of brushed on silicon and create exact copies. He also made us a new cheese board and showed us how to use all the machines. Watching him reminded me of how skilled my grandpa was and his work restoring the churches in Germany after WWII. Uncle Peter must have inherited that talent from Opa.


IMG_0892We had a long drive ahead of us. We had no idea that Pennsylvania was so wide or so hilly or so green! Having never been here before we imagined it as flat farmland. We had dinner in Scranton (where the show The Office takes place) and found a KOA campground along the way.

Total Miles: 6,425

Continuing up the Eastern Seaboard. Monticello to Philly.

IMG_0870IMG_0860Day 33.

Miles Driven: 356

We left my cousin’s home in North Carolina and continued north to Virginia. Our destination: Monticello, home of our third President, Mr. Thomas Jefferson. Visiting Monticello exposed that Jefferson was more than just a president. He was a brilliant man who also wrote our Declaration of Independence, was a farmer, spoke six languages, and was a self taught architect. Pretty cool guy.

IMG_0863Monticello was built on a hilltop near his birthplace and boyhood home near Charlottesville, Virginia. We took a tour of his home and saw many of the custom features and gadgets he designed into his home, including a bed that was built into the wall so to provide more floor space and a rotating book stand so he could read multiple books at once. In his IMG_0861dining room, with its bright yellow walls, we could imagine the intimate dinners he had with friends like John Adams, James Madison, and James Monroe. Monroe also lived just down the street from Monticello.

Since he was a farm owner, for the time period, this also meant he was a slave owner. This was something he struggled with his entire life because it contradicted what he had written in the Declaration of Independence, that “all men are created equal.” Now, you may ask, “If he struggled with this, why did he not free his slaves?” Slavery was a part of the culture of the 1700s. If he freed them where would they go? No one would hire and pay them. So he treated them well, kept them happy and well fed, and most importantly, kept families together.

The home is bright with high ceilings, extra bedrooms upstairs, and staff below. From Monticello, you can see to downtown Charlottesville and to the University of Virginia, which he also founded and designed.

Next time you look at a nickel, think of Mr. Jefferson and all the foundations he laid for our country. Monticello is even imprinted on the back.

IMG_0876IMG_0875Day 34.

Miles Driven: 173

After Monticello closed last night, we drove to the outskirts of Washington DC. In the morning, we had brunch with a friend who just moved to Maryland for a new adventure, like us. It was fun comparing stories and learning about her home/job hunt. Kristen seems very happy with her decision to more to the East coast.

After breakfast, we drove up to my cousin near Philadelphia. Matt and Jess have the cutest home and Matt has become quite the chef. They took very good care of us.

They drove us into Philly to visit the Reading Terminal Market where I was on the hunt for a few food items. One, the best canoli I have ever had was here at the Termini Bros. booth. Amazing. And two, a chocolate bar created by my favorite travel writer Anthony Bourdain.  I was successful in finding both along with a bit of liverwurst from a German butcher.

IMG_0879IMG_0877We spent the evening playing Settlers of Catan. Great day.

Total Miles: 5,884