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

The Long Drive: Texas

photo 1Day 7

Miles Driven: 637

Texas surpassed my expectations for the better. So, I was expecting to see tumble weeds, long stretches of dusty fields, and cacti. But no, after leaving Colorado and New Mexico, the rolling plains with cacti turned to rolling green hills of “Hill Country” that looked like Paso Robles. Everyone has been very friendly and they are all proud to be Texans.

photo 3Near the town of Amarillo, we turned onto Route 66 and found the Cadillac Ranch. This art sculpture of ten Cadillacs buried half-way was commissioned by a wealthy land owner and designed by artists from San Francisco. They encourage the visitors to add to their art by spray painting on the Cadillacs.

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On the drive, what seemed like rain drops started hitting the windshield. Yet, the sky was blue and it was not rain, it was the splattering of a swarm of bugs!

Day 8

Miles Driven: 239

photo 4We stayed the night at a road side motel and finished the final drive to Fredericksburg, TX. We met mom’s old ballroom dance partner from 25 years ago. It was fun to meet Frank and his wife Nancy. This town was established by a German community and we enjoyed eating at some of the German inspired restaurants. We window shopped and talked.

photo 3Dinner was at a great restaurant. Otto’s just opened last year and they really push towards farm to table seasonal cooking. We enjoyed a roast duck with duck fat fried potatoes and a peach glaze (peaches are just now ripe. Fredericksburg is even having a peach festival this weekend). For dessert, a new take on black forest cake; a flowerless chocolate cake with a cherry drizzle. Excellent meal. The chef even came to ask us how everything was and we saw him picking herbs from the garden out front.

We spent the night at the KOA campground in Fredericksburg.  A very windy night!

Day 9

Miles Driven:162


5 emblems represent the 5 governments that ruled over Texas.

In the morning, we packed and left right away because it was still so windy. We enjoyed breakfast at the Lyndon B. Johnson Historic Park (his birth place) and then made our way to the Capital: Austin. Austin’s slogan is “Keep Austin Weird” and as I see it, take Portland, OR and add cowboys and you have Austin. The Capitol was a classic building with wings and rotunda, and it did a good job at explaining Texas’s history and the evolution of the flag.

From there, we had lunch at the funky Shady Grove on Restaurant Row where we had our first taste of TexMex. Yummy chicken tacos and Fritos pie. We then visited the flagship Whole Foods Market where I always have fun wandering the aisles and picking out some local made foods and chocolate. I can’t wait to try them.

Last stop was an area called SoCo, or South Congress. This street is lined with fun boutiques and local restaurants, cafes, and ice cream. We had some coffee at Jo’s and Mexican Vanilla ice cream at Amy’s. Then we peeked in the flagship Tom’s Shoe’s cafe and I drooled over the shabby-chique decor. Totally painting a wall in my house like the one in their bathroom.

photo 5Final stop was in Allen’s Boots, where aisle upon aisle was filled with every type of cowboy boot you can imagine. Quite overwhelming!

We made the drive to our campsite in San Antonio and met some very “interesting” people who were camping next to us. Also, it was so hot and humid, I barely slept. Ah well.

Day 10

In San Antonio today, the downtown was bursting with fans of the Spurs, San Antonio’s Basketball team who are the NBA champions of 2014. They had a big boat parade down the River Walk. We got to explore the river walk before the festivities started and enjoyed the cool breeze along the water while eating at Casa Rio. I enjoyed Chilli con Carne, a San Antonio original.

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We poked our head into and ultimately took a nap in the lobby of the Menger Hotel. This hotel is one of the most famous in San Antonio and has played host to many presidents and socialites. Along with guests, this hotel also houses 32 happy haunts from a murdered maid who is seen still cleaning up the Victorian wing to President Theodore Roosevelt who is often sitting in the bar having a drink and trying to recruit soldiers. It is such a beautiful hotel!

Next was the Alamo, the battle ground that began the Texas Revolution and secession from Mexico ultimately allowing California and many other states to join the union and make the US a cross continental super power. I was surprised to learn that Davy Crocket fought and died at the battle of the Alamo.

_MG_1128Now back at the campsite, we enjoyed some sausages made in Colorado. Still humid, but there is a nice breeze and the lightning bugs are out.

Total Miles: 2,653

Arches National Park

photoRoad Trip USA Day 4:

Miles Driven: 62

Arches National Park was absolutely stunning. The iron and calcium rich sedimentary soil forms layers of bright red and orange soil. Through the constant erosion of wind and rain, natural arches and pillars rise up from the Earth. The amazing thing is, the arches will never look the same day after day due to the harsh climate of the Colorado Plateau. Colorado means “colored red” in Spanish referring to the red sandstone of the region that is swept away into the Colorado river.

As we drove through the park, we would try and guess the names of some of the rock formations. We spotted one rock that was not named on our map and we like to call it The Love Birds or The Two Amigos.


We drove out to the Devil’s Garden and walked through the tall and narrow fin rocks out to the Landscape Arch. This arch stretches across a wide opening; amazing how it stays up.

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After a picnic lunch we made our way to Delicate Arch, the wonder featured on many of Utah’s signs and license plates. Driving through the park, each view was constantly changing. The diverse colors were fantastic. The red stone against the rich blue sky with the bright green foliage below.IMG_3453

photo 2We were greeted with an afternoon thunderstorm and watched as the rocks turned a deeper burnt umber color.

Back at Canyonlands Campground in Moab, we made dinner early and cleaned up the car after the ice chest leaked on our mattress. Our first mishap! Good luck we are staying at a campsite with electricity and a laundromat! Car camping is fun because we get to meet so many interesting people. Just walking to the bathroom, we hear IMG_3450snippets of everyone’s own adventures. Our meals have been very creative and interesting. We are always trying to clean out our ice chest and everything has turned out quite tasty thus far!

Our campsite neighbor is a fellow from Luxemburg who was tired of his bank job and had enough money to travel the world. He had spent three months in South America and is now one month into his three months in North America. We shared some advice on different National Parks. Next stop for him, two months in Australia and New Zealand, then Asia, Africa, and maybe back to Europe.

Total Miles: 1,180


That canyon really is Grand!

Day 2.photo 3photo 2

Miles Driven: 293

We were so tired from the early morning of packing yesterday morning and the late night stroll of the Las Vegas strip last night that we slept in this morning and picked up a few things at a store before really hitting the road around noon.

_MG_0980First stop, the Hoover Dam!  It is considered one of the engineering wonders of the world by controlling the flood waters of the Colorado River and generating energy for Las Vegas and the LA basin.

Once at the Grand Canyon, we set up our “camp” at the Mather’s campground. Only $18 a night. Quite a deal! Our site is tucked away in a quiet corner of the campground. We were greeted by two mule deer strolling through the campsite munching on leaves. We too had some dinner on our little camp stove and had fun organizing our car for optimum storage and sleeping. All of our belongings can fit into the front two seats leaving us plenty of room in the back for sleeping. The couch mattress is quite comfortable.

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We headed to the Grand Canyon rim to enjoy a beautiful sunset and watch the changing colors. A woman there said to her family: “It looks like someone sculpted it.” and she right, God did. Such an amazing wonder in our small world.

photo 4“O Lord, how manifold are thy works! In wisdom has thou made them all: The Earth is full of thy Riches.” -Psalm 104/24

“Father Almighty, wonderful Lord, Wondrous Creator, be ever adored; Wonders of nature sing praises to You, Wonder of wonders- I may praise too!”

Day 3._MG_1009

Miles Driven: 381

We woke up to birds chirping and a view of the pine and juniper trees surrounding our camp. After breakfast, we headed to the Grand Canyon’s newly built South Rim Visitor’s center. Their bus system was also quite impressive and quickly brought us to the historic district of the park. The historic El Tovar Hotel was filled with heavy wood panels and hunting trophies and had one of the best views overlooking the canyon. What a view for the visitors staying there.

_MG_1021On the way out of the park, we stopped at Desert View point and enjoyed one of the best views down the canyon. We could see the curving Colorado River and the rise and fall of small canyons and mesas. The Desert View Watchtower was designed by lady architect Mary Colter and is remnant of the Native American architecture of the area and blends into the landscape.

photo 1The drive from the Grand Canyon to Moab, UT was long but full of changing scenery. We listened to music and books on tape to pass the time. I also read an article out of the AAA tour book on the many tribes who live in the south west. We made a pit-stop at Four Corners, the cross section between Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado. This tourist attraction is situated in Navajo land and we got to browse crafts created by the local people.

Tomorrow, Arches National Park!

Total Miles: 1,118