Midwest Great Lakes Road Trip – Part 4

My Midwest Great Lakes trip was now heading into the east Lake Michigan part of the tour. The boat tour around Apostle Islands National Lakeshore was the last scheduled boat or park tour on the trip, so my last two stops at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and Indiana Dunes National Park would be just personal exploration hiking tours, requiring no advance bookings. I fully expected to be able to see both sites in one day of travel. I checked out of my comfy motel stop in St. Ignace, had breakfast in a diner down the road, and headed for the Mackinac Bridge, the main connection between the two Michigan peninsulas. The Mackinac Bridge was a part of Interstate 75, allowing me to enjoy a limited access expressway for the first time since I headed up to Duluth through Minnesota. However, the bridge was going through its own summer road repair season as traffic was reduced to a couple of lanes on the southbound side. The bridge crossed over the connection strait between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, giving me a good view of both lakes as I crossed over, which allowed me to now claim that I have had the chance to see all of the Great Lakes in my lifetime. Just a few miles south of the bridge, my path directed me off of the interstate, which was heading down the center of the Lower Peninsula, onto US routes that were headed along the Lake Michigan shores of the peninsula in order to get to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, which only led to more cross traffic and summer road repair season sections along the way.

By late mid-morning, I reached the Sleeping Bear Dunes Visitor Center in the nearby town of Empire and got some exploration tips from a ranger. I drove up into the park and turned off onto a scenic drive in a forested area along the top of the dunes. I found a parking area and hiked up a small path to a point where the open sand dunes sloped sharply down to a small shore along Lake Michigan. The views were fascinating and inspiring. It was also amazing to see the number of people who decided to try and walk down the steep slope. The perspective of understanding how geology, an ice age, and time dug out the deep areas that became the Great Lakes was in full view at this overlook. I took my photos and headed back to the car. I completed the scenic drive and drove back down to Empire, where I had my first non-tote bag lunch at a busy café near the visitor center.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore montage


After lunch, I drove out, following the mapped out directions that would lead me down to Grand Rapids, where I would reconnect with the interstate highway system into Indiana. However, the dreaded summer road repair season, including a twenty mile northbound detour for one small section of a fully closed road, created delays in my time schedule. Once I got to Grand Rapids and back on the interstate highway system, it was in the late afternoon, and I realized that I would not be able to make it to the Indiana Dunes National Park Visitor Center before it closed. I headed directly to the Chesterton hotel I had booked my room and checked in for the night. After getting my dinner, I connected online to determine my hotel options for the final segment heading back home. Since my visit to Indiana Dunes National Park was now moved to the morning, delaying my start back west, I decided that the little side drive up to the southern portion of Wisconsin was not necessary. The rural area around Bayfield and Apostle Islands had given the Wisconsin perspective, so after visiting Indiana Dunes National Park, I was going to hop onto Interstate 80 and head back home to Colorado. I booked a hotel stop west of Des Moines.

The next morning, I enjoyed my hotel breakfast, checked out, and headed directly to the Indiana Dunes National Park Visitor Center, where I got some guidance from a ranger on the best trails to experience. Indiana Dunes was the smallest of the five natural destinations I had planned on this tour, and it was interesting to see that the central, easily-accessible beach area between the two ends of the park was still under the Indiana State Park system with an entry fee, while the national park areas were free. Per the ranger guidance, I headed to the eastern side of the park to a parking area near Kemil Beach. Since Indiana Dunes had only been re-designated from a national lakeshore in 2019, it was interesting to see that the park signs still had not been updated to Indiana Dunes National Park. I started out by taking a small hike around the forested Dune Ridge Trail, then I walked up the road to the small sand trail out to the beach area. The dune and beach area was a lot more level than the impressively steep slopes at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park, but I still admired the simple natural vibe of the southern lakeshore of Lake Michigan in this newly re-designated national park.

Indiana Dunes National Park montage


After taking in another great perspective, I drove out of the park and hopped onto I-80 just a couple of blocks away. I reached my hotel in Des Moines that night, and then made it back home the following day. As I was driving through Iowa on the first day of this trip, I was amazed to see the many wind power farms along the way, so on the way back home, I stopped at a rest area in Iowa and took photos of a nearby wind farm. It was a perspective that was just as important as visiting the national parks, as it demonstrated our ability to continue to learn how to use the wonder of nature to empower us all. This was another great road trip.

Midwest Great Lakes Road Trip – Part 3

At the second Duluth hotel I stayed at, I considered my schedule for the next two days of my Midwest Great Lakes trip. Due to the tight booking at hotels and tour transportation that I had already experienced during the Isle Royale National Park and Voyageurs National Park segment of my trip, I felt that I needed to book both nights to cover myself during this time. According to the website, the Apostle Islands grand tour would cover three hours, and I surmised that I would then be able to travel across the Michigan Upper Peninsula within the afternoon to arrive at St. Ignace, where I figured I would be able to take the ferry over to Mackinac Island and enjoy a dinner in a horse-buggy town before ferrying back to St. Ignace. I found a room available online at a small hotel in St. Ignace and booked it for the next night. I then considered that the next day I would be able to cross the Mackinac Bridge, head down to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore for a quick view, then make it down to the recently re-designated Indiana Dunes for a quick stop before checking into my next hotel. I found an available room for that second night in a hotel in Chesterton, right next to Indiana Dunes, and booked it. I felt I was ready for the next two days.

The next morning I got ready to head over to Bayfield, Wisconsin, where the tour boat was scheduled to depart at ten, but I would need to check-in early at nine-thirty. Since Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is actually closer to Duluth than the Isle Royale departure point I dealt with two days ago, I did have the opportunity to enjoy the hotel breakfast amenity before checking out and heading east to the Wisconsin border. Since Isle Royale was considered to be a part of Michigan, the moment I crossed the state border into Wisconsin, I knew I could technically consider that I had now been in all fifty states, but I decided to hold off on the celebration until I had crossed into the Michigan Upper Peninsula later that afternoon. Even though I was driving along the upper lakeshore of Wisconsin, I still noticed a few dairy farms along the way giving me the agricultural perspective of the state. I circled around small Bayfield Peninsula jutting off the north side of Wisconsin into Lake Superior and reached Bayfield, a much larger town and take-off point than Grand Portage in Minnesota. Instead of a small pier, the tour boats were taking off from a larger marina harbor with multiple piers and a car ferry dock for visitors seeking to get over to the largest Apostle Island, Madeline Island, for a chance to drive around an island. I parked on an unlimited parking side street, grabbed my last tote bag lunch and camera backpack, and then headed to the check-in center next to the marina.

The tour boat was much larger than the Isle Royale transport boat, and I found my seat on the open upper deck on top of the center cabin, just behind a young family. Our boat slowly backed out of the harbor and started up North Channel between Madeline Island and Basswood Island. As we traveled through the various islands, we experienced the sandstone cliffs next to the luscious forests on the islands. One island had been the site of a sandstone quarry, and we were shown a place where blocks of sandstone had been left when the quarry was closed. As we went further north, we saw where the lake had created sea caves into the sandstone cliffs and was shown one of the sea stacks, a jutting rock islet from one of the islands. As we reached the northernmost island on our tour, the island’s name, Devils Island, showed itself as the lake waters began to rock our boat as well as splash against the sea caves under the lighthouse on the island itself. As we turned and headed back, I took the time to bring out my last tote bag lunch and enjoyed it. We found quieter waters as we headed around Raspberry Island and admired the quaint lighthouse along the side. The islands were an amazing perspective of the power of Lake Superior, and an interesting comparison to the ridge island of Isle Royale.

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore montage


The three hour tour actually came closer to being four hours in length, so after a quick stop in the gift shop after leaving the boat and heading out the marina pier, I found my car and headed off east for Michigan. However, besides the extra hour on the boat tour, I also realized that I had not taken into consideration that I was changing time zones at the Michigan border, losing another hour on the afternoon trip. In addition, besides the Michigan Upper Peninsula not having a smooth interstate expressway across it, I continued to experience the Midwest summer road repair season on the US and state routes along the way. This led to me finally arriving to St. Ignace by ten that night, way too late to take the ferry to Mackinac Island for a relaxing horse-buggy dinner. Since I had already booked my hotel room for the next night down in Indiana, I knew I would not have time to enjoy Mackinac Island the next morning and would have to apologize to my friend for having to pass up his recommendation. I headed for my night stop and found out it was a small old-fashion comfortable motel with the owner living on the property. I parked in front of my room door and used the old-fashion metal key to enter the room. In a way, it was good that I had booked the next night’s hotel room back in Duluth, as I did not need to worry about having a Wi-Fi connection. Instead, I jumped into bed and relaxed into thinking about my next day heading into the Michigan Lower Peninsula.

To be continued…

Midwest Great Lakes Road Trip – Part 2

The first part of my road trip journey around the Midwest Great Lakes had been more about driving, re-adjusting, and re-planning on the go, but now I woke up at four in the morning in my Duluth hotel to prepare and set off to my first scheduled destination, Isle Royale National Park. Because of the early start, I was going to have to miss the included hotel breakfast amenity, but my lunch was already set. Before starting on journey, I had made and wrapped in plastic bags five sandwiches, which I placed in a small ice chest with five apples and diet sodas. I put the ice chest in the trunk with a small tote bag filled with five cookie packs, providing me with five simple lunches to save time and money on the trip. On the first two days of my journey, a rest area stop and a fuel stop were the locations of my first two lunches, but now I realized, after going over the boat schedule for the Isle Royale visit, that I had inadvertently and properly prepared the only option I would have for lunch on the island. I started driving up a state route to Grand Portage, the boat departure location to the national park.

Grand Portage was a small town, and the boat was docked against a singular short wooden pier next to a small wooden office cabin and extending from a small grass and gravel lakefront lot with ill-defined parking strips. The cars of my fellow passengers pretty much filled the small lot, and the captain with his two crew members gave us a short safety presentation before checking us on board. I took a seat on the outside of the cabin, holding my lunch tote bag and camera tightly in preparation of a rolling journey. After an hour and a half on the water, the boat came up along the southwest corner of the island where the captain pointed out a hundreds-of-years old ancient tree that had survived on the tight rocky coast. The island’s forest stretched tightly against the shoreline, barely providing any sort of beach area. The boat then headed into the Washington Harbor inlet within the island’s southwest tip to a short pier next to the visitor check-in center named Windigo. After covering my entrance fee and getting input from one of the park rangers, I decided to hike a small trail up to an overlook on the southern part of the island. I only had a few hours to explore before the boat return check-in, so it seemed to be the best choice. Even though the island has a decent population of moose and wolves, I did not come across any of these creatures, perhaps luckily. However, the trail was tight within the vibrant forest, forcing me into a balancing act of a walk in many sections. The colorful assortment of small red, white, and blue berries gave a natural American tone to the flora. At the overlook, I could just barely see over the trees a small pond on a small open grass field. I enjoyed my lunch, stashed the trash in my tote bag, and hiked back down the trail to the visitor center, taking some beautiful camera shots. Because of the isolation of the island, the rangers requested that visitors avoid using waste receptacles near the visitor center, taking trash back to the mainland for disposal, due to the meager schedule of waste pickup service at the island from the mainland. I made it back in time for the boat departure check-in, and I and my fellow passenger were given a close view of the lighthouse just beyond the harbor on our way back to Grand Portage.

Isle Royale National Park montage


As we were informed, Isle Royale National Park is the least visited national park in the lower forty-eight states, but it was very obvious why. With only a few low passenger boat transportation options to the island and a very short summer visitation season, Isle Royale is one of the hardest national parks to visit. The only other option a potential park visitor has beyond the small commercial group of transportation boats is some type of personal access to a lake boat or sea plane to take one to the island. I truly lucked out in getting that last seat available on the commercial transport to be able to visit a remarkable national park.

Once I made it back to my hotel in Duluth, I realized that I would need to find another hotel for the next night after I made my trip to Voyageurs National Park. I went online in my hotel room and lucked out again as a motel just a few blocks away had one open room available for the following night. At the same time, due to nearly missing out on Isle Royale, I went online to check out the boat tour schedule two days away for Apostle Islands National Lakeshore and was able to book one of the last remaining seats on the second Grand Tour boat. The next morning, I finally enjoyed the breakfast amenity I had missed the day before and then checked out of the hotel before heading northwest towards Voyageurs National Park.

My original idea was to head to the Kabetogama Lake Visitor Center around the southwest corner of the park for the possibility of a lake boat tour, but I had just discovered that this option was not currently available, so I headed to the Ash River entrance and visitor center along the south central side of the park. This location provided several hiking trails and overlook spots at its location along a tight section of Kabetogama Lake. The park ranger at the visitor center gave me the best trail options in the area and suggested I also check out the lake overlook behind the visitor center. In a calming moment, when I walked up to the overlook, I found five young woman stretched out on the rocky overlook, reading in their relaxed state, while a few motor and sail boats enjoyed the waters below. It was a relaxing state for me as well. On one of the other trails recommended to me, I reached an overlook viewing a large pond created by dams made by beavers in the park. Basically, my visits to Voyageurs and Isle Royale had provided me with a new perspective on the forest and lake environment of the Midwest. I enjoyed my next tote bag lunch on the last trail head, and then headed back to Duluth to check in to the second hotel, so I could plan for the next phase of my trip, after which I could claim that I have been in all fifty states in the US.

Voyageurs National Park montage


To be continued…

Midwest Great Lakes Road Trip – Part 1

A year ago, I had planned to take the major road trip that would officially allow me to claim having been able to experience all fifty states in the USA. However, the COVID pandemic forced me to delay this trip as travel restrictions rose up to fight the virus. Two years ago, I had viewed this trip in a simple format by flying to Chicago and renting a car to drive around Lake Michigan to experience the two states I had never visited, Michigan and Wisconsin, and the last state where I had only visited by changing planes in an airport, Minnesota. Yet, with travel restrictions creating new barriers even as they slowly started to lift, I realized this trip will need to be taken solely by car on a major road trip. I mapped out a path where I would drive from Colorado through Nebraska to Iowa, before turning north toward Minnesota. I noticed during my planning that Iowa had a small national monument along the Mississippi, Effigy Mounds, and decided to put this side trip into the schedule. In Minnesota, the goal was to visit its lake-based national park, Voyageurs, and then head over to a town in the northeast point of Minnesota, where I could catch a boat ride in Lake Superior over to Michigan’s lone national park, Isle Royale, which just happens to be closer to Minnesota and Canada than Michigan. After this boat visit, I next planned to head around Lake Superior into Wisconsin in order to take a boat cruise around the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore at the tip of a small Wisconsin peninsula. After this cruise, I would then drive across Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to get to the Mackinac Bridge, the one connection over to Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. When I described my trip’s plans to a friend, he recommended that I take the time before crossing over the bridge to take a ferry over to Mackinac Island, where the small town on the island has no automotive transportation, only horse buggies to take visitors through the town. I added it to the schedule, and then plotted my path into the Lower Peninsula, planning a stop at the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore on Lake Michigan. On my initial planning, I had not included Indiana Dunes, but when it was recently re-designated as a national park from a national lakeshore, I added it to my national park bucket list. After this final stop, I plotted my road journey to loop back up into Wisconsin to get a perspective of its farming and urban areas before heading back home. After getting fully vaccinated from COVID, dealing with a family issue, HOA concerns, the passing of a dear neighbor in my community, and the medical issues of a close friend, I finally prepared and set off on my journey in the middle of a hot summer, but I was about to discover that even with all of my planning, this was a trip where I was going to have to adjust and adapt more than with any other road trip I had undertaken.

My first day of the journey was basically a long drive through the heart of Nebraska into Iowa, where my destination was a small hotel just north of Des Moines, which I had booked online the night before. This has become the foundation of handling a modern road trip, using hotel Wi-Fi and my laptop to judge the next day’s schedule and book the next night’s hotel at each stop’s journey along the way. However, I was going to discover that this trip was going to need a bit more adapting in this process. Per my initial plan, the next day I would check out Effigy Mounds and then head to a hotel just outside of Voyageurs, but I quickly discovered online that there were no hotel availability near Voyageurs. I also confirmed that there were no hotel availability near the boat departure point to Isle Royale. The closest hotel opening for either location was in Duluth at the western tip of Lake Superior, centrally located about over two hours away from both destinations, as well as just a bit west of Apostle Islands, my next destination after the two national parks. The hotel was available for the next two nights, but was fully booked for the third night following, so I booked both nights to cover the three destinations and started to plan the schedule. As I thought it over, I felt it might be best to try and see Voyageurs before checking in to the Duluth hotel, which would be difficult with the side trip to Effigy Mounds, so I made the decision to drop Effigy Mounds from the schedule for the next day. The next day, I headed straight up the interstate into Minnesota, heading through the St. Paul side of the twin cities, but it still took longer than I had hoped as I approached the Duluth area. I began to realize that I would not reach Voyageurs until around late afternoon, which would not be the best time to experience the park, so I went to the hotel I booked in Duluth and checked in early.

Once I was in my room, I logged in to the Wi-Fi on my laptop and checked on basic information for Voyageurs for the next day. After checking on Voyageurs, I went over to the Isle Royale page on the nps.gov site to check on the boat schedules at the departure point for the following day. There was only one boat handling two trips to the island from the Minnesota departure point, and seating was fully booked. I was beginning to wonder if I would ever get a chance to explore Isle Royale and check it off my national park bucket list. Suddenly, I decided to check on the boat schedule for the day I had planned for Voyageurs and found the boat had one last available seat available for its morning trip. I immediately booked the open seat, and swapped the schedule to visit Isle Royale before Voyageurs. I also realized that I would need to get up at four in the morning in order to make the boat check-in at the departure point around nine. Since, I was now delaying Voyageurs for another day, I also realized that I would need to find a third hotel night in Duluth for the Apostle Islands visit. This trip was fast becoming the most complicated road trip I had ever taken on. I could hardly wait to finally get to my first schedule designation on this trip.

To be continued…

 

Pacific Northwest Road Trip – Part 4

Here it was the afternoon of the Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend and the fifth day of my grand road tour of the Pacific Northwest in which I had experienced the perspective and wonder of four major national parks from Glacier NP in Montana to Washington’s diverse trio of North Cascades, Olympic, and Mount Rainier, but after I had exited Mount Rainier National Park, I had attempted to drive southward on a weather-beaten road to reach Mount St. Helens National Monument, a protected environment under the US Forest Service, which was created a few years after the volcanic eruption of Mount St. Helens in May of 1980 had decimated the surrounding area. However, twenty miles down this pot-holed, rocky, and gravel-roughed road, I was suddenly stopped by a sign and roadblock indicating the road beyond was still closed by winter snows. I pulled into a nearby campsite parking area and pulled out the printed computer itinerary I had created for the trip. Within the line details of the route, I noticed that I was supposed to take a southbound local road from another town to the west of the town where I had followed the road sign. The road I was on headed down the eastern side of Mount St. Helens, away from the western entrance where the informative visitor center was located. However, if I drove back up to the main road and tried to find this other unmarked local road, I realized I could find it difficult to stay on course. I could hear my friend’s voice in my head telling me that this is what a GPS app was for. Of course, I could take the main road back to Interstate 5, then drive south to the Mount St. Helens exit, then drive back east to the visitor center, but this would add a couple of hours, if not more, to the day, and it was already the mid-afternoon. I decided that I needed to pass up Mount St. Helens and move on. I had accomplished the main goal of checking off four national parks from my trip bucket list and the remainder of my itinerary was to visit a couple of national monuments on the way back to Colorado.

I put my car through the suffering of going back up the rough twenty miles to the main road and headed for Interstate 5. Once on Interstate 5, I headed south to Portland. I had thought it might be a good idea to drive through downtown Portland, but the earlier delays of the day made me decide to take the 205 bypass around Portland to connect with Interstate 84 and head east to the small town of Pendleton, where I had made my motel reservation.

The next day, Memorial Day, I got up early and headed back onto Interstate 84 towards Idaho. I had commented in part 2 of this multi-part blog post that this trip had another goal of upgrading Idaho on my bucket list. I had first visited Idaho in the spring of my first year of college when I had visited my birthplace of Burns, Oregon, and had taken the bus to Boise to catch a plane back to Los Angeles. This was before I had a decent camera to record my trips. About fifteen years ago, I had driven a half hour through a small corner of southeast Idaho on my way to Jackson, Wyoming, and Yellowstone National Park without stopping. On this current trip, I had driven through the upper Idaho panhandle between Montana and Washington, but I had stopped to eat dinner in a small Idaho town. Now, I was going to complete the upgrade by visiting the Craters of the Moon National Monument in eastern Idaho, taking pictures of a stark landscape.

Craters of the Moon National Monument is a small protected area of dark rocks, cone hills, and fissures along the Pioneer Mountains. To many, it may look like a stretch of moon landscape, which is how it received its name, but the landscape is really the result of past lava flows in a volcanic fissure. Its proximity to Yellowstone just to the east gave me a wonderful perspective of the volcanic activity lying below this fissure. I walked around a small trail and hiked up a nice black cone to get my pictures before driving on.

Paisley Cone, Craters of the Moon National Monument

I headed south into Utah to reach Brigham City where I had made my motel reservation. Brigham City is also next to an important historical location where east and west rails came together to form America’s first transcontinental railroad, bridging the two coasts. The final connection was done with a golden spike in a bold historical display. I had planned to make a quick stop to check it out. However, as I drove down to Brigham City, the clouds darkened overhead. Since it was getting late in the day, and I wasn’t sure how the site would look in the rain, I headed straight to the motel and checked in for the night. I figured that I would have a chance to slip over first thing in the morning before moving on. However, when I got up the next morning, the clouds were still around and threatening. I was glad to be near the important historical site, but I felt I could pass up this little side trip under the current weather conditions.

I was now on my way to my final stop before heading home, Dinosaur National Monument. The preserved environmental monument straddled over the Utah-Colorado border with most of the land being on the Colorado side. The park is mainly known for the dinosaur fossils that were discovered within the park, making it a very scientific perspective of archeology to explore, so I had planned the itinerary to visit the Colorado side on my way home. However, as I did my research on Dinosaur NM before starting the trip, I discovered that an important dinosaur gallery was on the Utah side, so I added the Utah entrance as well. Now, as I headed east on US 40 coming close to the Utah entrance, I was glad to see the dark clouds staying behind to the west. I turned onto a local road and headed up to the entrance.

I parked next to the visitor center and went in to explore. From the visitor center, a shuttle took me and other visitors up the hill to a building constructed against a quarry wall where loads of dinosaur fossils were visible within the rock. At one spot, visitors were allowed to actually feel the bones in the rock. When visitors were finished viewing the fossils and other exhibits, they had the option of taking the shuttle back or walking the outdoor trail down to the visitor center. Of course, I chose the trail which showed stretches of the geologic strata where the dinosaurs were found. Clam fossils were prevalent and a dinosaur backbone was visible on a rock wall along the way. When I reached the visitor center, I asked one of the park ranger about what fossils I would see on the Colorado side. I was surprised to discover that there were no fossils on display in Colorado. The park was mainly natural views of the canyon created by the Yampa River with recreational activities. Since there was no connecting road within the park, I would have to drive out to the main road, cross the border, and then drive back up to the Colorado entrance. I had thoroughly enjoyed the dinosaur perspective I had just immersed myself in, so I decided that I did not need to visit the Colorado side.

Dinosaur Fossils on Quarry Wall in Quarry Exhibit Hall, Dinosaur National Monument

I headed back through the Colorado Rockies on my way home. It was a glorious way to finish up this road trip. I had accomplished this trip in seven days and seen a lot to increase my perspective. It was a wonderful adventure to experience.

 

Pacific Northwest Road Trip – Part 3

The first half of my Pacific Northwest road trip had already taken me to two mountain range national parks situated up against the US/Canadian border, from a quick zip into Glacier National Park in Montana to an open crossing through North Cascades National Park Complex in Washington. Now, I was on Whidbey Island in Puget Sound at the start of the Memorial Day weekend, wondering if I should try to slip on a ferry to the Olympic Peninsula that had all of the advanced reservations booked into the afternoon or head back off the island and drive a couple of hours circling around through Seattle and come up into the peninsula from the south in order to visit one of the most diverse and popular national parks, Olympic NP. As I got up early at the motel on a Saturday morning, I decided that it would not take that much time to drive over to the ferry port and just check out my options.

The drive over to the ferry dock turned onto a two lane road that had very little traffic that early in the day. It appeared the port was coming up just to the left, but a center divider wall came up between the two lanes and a sign directed me to head straight for the ferry. About a mile up the road, a sign directed me into a roundabout that led me back to the entrance I had passed earlier. I drove up to the entrance gate and asked the attendant about the possibilities of reservation cancellations, and he informed me that even if I didn’t get on the first ferry, I would probably make the second. I paid and was directed to a center-right lane in the port waiting area behind a couple of cars. As I sat and waited in my car, I noticed more and more cars coming in and lining up in the lanes to the left of me, starting with the farthest left lane. The two farthest right lanes filled up with long vehicles. I suddenly realized that the roundabout spur was to handle a backup of vehicles that usually occurred at the entrance gate. After the ferry arrived and the vehicles in the left and far right lanes had loaded on, there was room for the cars in my lane to board as well. As I discovered, not all of the available space was covered by advance reservation, as the ferry had to leave some space for last minute arrivals. Going early put me in that last minute available space. I got out of the car and went to the top deck to take pictures of the trip over Puget Sound.

View of Puget Sound lighthouse from Port Townsend ferry

Once I drove off the ferry in Port Townsend, I headed straight for Port Angeles, the closest entrance to Olympic National Park. The park covers most of the Olympic Peninsula and is encircled by US 101. The size and diversity of the park is the reason I dedicated this day to just exploring the park at many entrances. I drove to US 101 and turned toward Port Angeles. When I arrived, I stopped at the park’s main visitor center to grab an information pamphlet and check out the gift shop. It was madness inside the center as Memorial Day visitors were lining up for hiking and camping passes, but since I didn’t need a pass, I got out of there quickly with my pamphlet and a deck of cards. Then, I headed into the park toward the Hurricane Ridge overlook, only I did not get too far. About a mile into the park, I suddenly came to the end of a line of cars waiting to move forward. Knowing that my main interest was in the rain forests on the western side and checking the pamphlet, I decided to skip the mountain ridge area and turn back. When I got back to Port Angeles, I went west on US 101 and continued around the park. US 101 entered the park boundary around the northwest corner next to Lake Crescent, where I was able to stop on a couple of overlooks and take pictures of the lake. I drove on as US 101 turned south and traveled along the western side of the park. As soon as I saw the sign to the road to the Hoh Rain Forest entrance, I turned and headed for the prime attraction of Olympic National Park. Suddenly, as I was getting close to the entrance gate, I found myself stopped in another line of cars. The line wasn’t as long as Hurricane Ridge line, but it was not moving. It turned out that the parking area was full, and the park ranger at the entrance gate could not let a car through until a car left the parking area. It took about 45 minutes before I was able to enter through the gate, but in a bit of karma, the open parking space waiting for me was the first one next to the visitor center.

Once I had made my stop at the visitor center, I went out on the short circular Hall of Mosses Trail within the forest. Olympic National Park protects the northernmost rain forests on the planet. The yearly rainfall and high humidity, even in the cooler latitude, created a forest with colorfully green ponds along the roots and hearty mosses draped over limbs. It was a relaxing beautiful hike, and I came to respect the luscious environment. One of my Facebook friends commented on my posting about visiting Olympic NP that I needed to plan more than one day there, and I could see why, but I took in what I could in the time I was there. After I completed my hike, I drove out of the rain forest, giving my parking space to the next person in line at the gate, and headed back to US 101. I had planned to slip into another rain forest entrance in the southwest corner of the park, but as I drove along US 101 up against the Pacific coastline, signs quickly informed me of something that was not evident on general maps, that much of the coastline, even though separate from the main park, was a part of Olympic National Park. I stopped at an overlook parking area at Ruby Beach and headed over to enjoy the northern Pacific coastline, another facet of the diversity of this national park. It was getting late in the day, and I realized that I didn’t need to see the other rain forest, so I headed onward to my motel in Olympia-Tumwater.

Lake Crescent, Hoh Rainforest, and Ruby Beach montage from Olympic National Park

My next day plan was to drive down on Interstate 5, then exit east to Washington’s third national park, Mount Rainier. When I had planned my itinerary, it seemed from the computer map that the southeast entrance would provide me the better views of the epic peak, so I planned to enter on that side and take in the view, then head back out and take a local road down to visit Mount St. Helens National Monument. Now, as I drove east, I passed by the road to the southwest entrance, then further passed by a sign next to a road directing me to Mount St. Helens, until I reached and turned north to the southeast entrance. After I had entered the southeast entrance gate with another car, I checked the information pamphlet I had been given and discovered that there was a road traversing the south side of the park between the two entrances. It was a no-brainer to just travel through the park on this road, observing more of the majestic views of Mount Rainier, then circle back to the road to Mount St. Helens. The views were majestic, including the visitor center midway through where visitors still had a small snow slope to sled under the view of Mount Rainier. I was impressed. I took my pictures, then headed west for the southwest entrance. I soon discovered that my decision to go to the southeast corner was sheer genius, as I passed several miles of cars waiting to enter the southwest gate on my way out.

View at Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center, Mount Rainier National Park

I circled back to the sign directing me towards Mount St. Helens NM, then turned down the road south. The road had suffered severe winter damage and was full of cracks, potholes, and rough gravel. I suffered over this road for twenty miles, until I came to a sign stating that the road was closed at this point due to remaining winter snows. There was only one way to go, back over the same rocky road for twenty miles.

To be continued…

 

Pacific Northwest Road Trip – Part 2

I had started this Pacific Northwest road trip with one long day of driving just to get close to my first target, Glacier National Park in Montana. Then, on the next day, having discovered that most of the Going-to-the-Sun Road which traverses the park was still closed because of snow, I was restricted to entering only one side of the park for a short distance, and I chose the western entrance next to Lake McDonald, which proved to be a fine natural representation of the national park. After some hiking and picture taking, I headed back out on the road, going west. I stopped for dinner in the Idaho panhandle, officially raising Idaho’s status on my trip bucket list, then moved on for my overnight stay in Spokane Valley, Washington, raising Washington’s status to an officially visited state. However, it was now time to go deeper into Washington and head for the first of its three national parks, North Cascades National Park.

When I started off from Spokane Valley, I soon left the interstate highway and headed northwest to connect with State Route 20, which is the road that crosses the park. I did not expect to come upon anything of particular interest until I reached the park border, but I was wrong. The route I took came right up to the Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River. The dam, completed in 1942, is one of the largest power stations in the country, and it was a very impressive sight to experience. I took a few pictures from an overlook, then headed onward.

When I got on State Route 20, I was surprised not to see any signage regarding miles to the park entrance. I passed by some wide farm plain spreads, then suddenly found myself rising into a pass that led into a sharp valley between snow covered peaks. The road turned into a pass which led to some overlooks where I stopped to take photos. I passed a few tan roadside signs along the way, then passed a more prominent sign that seemed very similar to most national park entrance signs. I was still wondering if I had actually entered the park when I came upon the small town of Newhalem, which had the North Cascades National Park Visitor Center in it. Inside the center, I was informed that I had entered the park much earlier, near the valley with the snow covered peaks. Didn’t I see the entry sign, I was asked? According to the park staff, North Cascades National Park has no entrance fees, so it has no entrance stops. When one includes the small town surrounded by the park, this is very similar to Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio, which makes sense. Also since State Route 20 is a vital business path when it is cleared of snow, North Cascades NP is also like Smoky Mountain National Park, which also does not charge fees because of the major US route that connects western North Carolina with eastern Tennessee. It was an enlightening visit. I picked up the park pamphlet and drove on, passing many cars coming in from the Seattle side of the park.

Peaks, Pines, and Flows in North Cascades National Park Complex


At the time, I was happy to check off North Cascades NP from my national park bucket list, but later, after I had returned home and had a chance to look at the park pamphlet I had picked up, I noticed an interesting detail. When I was planning the trip and doing basic research on the park, the atlases and maps I had seen of the park had shown a border that resembled an eastward pointing boot, but the pamphlet map showed inner borders within the boot that separated two national recreational areas – Lake Chelan National Recreational Area and Ross Lake National Recreational Area. According to the pamphlet map, the Ross Lake NRA actually surrounded State Route 20 and divided North Cascades NP. Did I actually enter the boundaries of North Cascades National Park? According to the pamphlet, I did not, but rather stayed totally within Ross Lake NRA. In fact, according to the pamphlet map, no vehicle roads ever enter the national park boundaries, meaning one would need to do a major hike in order to enter the actual boundaries of the park. However, the National Park Service website does not separate the two national recreational areas on the Washington state list like it does on the other states list, and reading closely, it talks about the North Cascades National Park Complex, which includes the two national recreational areas. For this reason, I am counting my drive through the park complex as a true visit to North Cascades National Park for my bucket list.

My next target was Olympic National Park, and according to the highlighted line on my computer generated itinerary map, my path would take me over a small connecting bridge to a long vertical island in Puget Sound, then over a longer bridge to the Olympic peninsula. When I had searched for a motel near the park the night before, I noted that my best deal would be on the island, Whidbey Island, and I made the reservation. It turned out to be lucky choice. As I drove onto the island, I began to see signs about using a special three digit phone number to call for reservations on the Port Townsend Ferry. I recognized Port Townsend as the city on the peninsula side of the long bridge on the itinerary, so when I reached the motel, I quickly checked the itinerary printout. Even though the highlighted dotted line looked like a bridge to cross, a single line on the list of route directions confirmed that the dotted line was actually a ferry path, not a bridge, and the route time calculation was based upon reaching and getting on the ferry almost exactly at the time of its departure, a very unlikely occurrence. As I was checking into my room, I mentioned needing to catch the ferry in the morning, and the desk clerk strongly recommended that I make a reservation online, especially since it was the Memorial Day weekend. I took the web address from the clerk and went online as soon as I got to my room, but I quickly discovered that all of the available reservations were booked up until early afternoon. The clerk did feel that a last minute cancellation might be possible on the earlier crossings, but she was not that up on the ferry process. Because of Puget Sound, my only other option to reach Olympic National Park would be to drive back off the island and drive down Interstate 5 through Seattle in order to circle around the south side of the park to get to the west and north entrances of the park, a trek that would cover several hours. So, do I take a chance with the ferry or trek through half of the next day just to get to Olympic National Park? I started to debate it within my mind.

To be continued…

 

Central Plains Road Trip – Part 4

Our road trip had taken us through three of the four central plains states which was the main theme of this trip, along with quick stops across the Mississippi River in Illinois, Memphis, and Tupelo. The focus of our journey became an in-depth perspective of history from a native pre-American culture, western expansion sites including an iconic memorial, two presidential libraries, a national park centered around historic bathhouses, and the birthplace of an iconic singer and entertainer. Now, we were heading west into the last state to visit on this tour, Oklahoma.

After we had finished scraping around a dirt field looking for diamonds at Crater of Diamonds State Park in Arkansas, we got in the car and headed west along US Route 70 to Oklahoma. My map planning program had set up a schedule to head south to Interstate 30 West, which would take us into Texas and then connect us to Interstate 35 North up into Oklahoma. However, even though interstate traveling would be consistently faster, it tends to be more disconnected to the cultural perspective around it. The US 70 route led us directly into Oklahoma and allowed us to stop so that my friend could get pictures of himself next to the state line welcome signs between Oklahoma and Arkansas. After that, we had a more distinctive perspective of Oklahoma’s rural aspects. Time was not a major factor since we had a motel reservation in Ardmore, near our first planned Oklahoma visit location. We reached our motel with enough time to find a restaurant in the center of Ardmore, giving us another perspective of the nearby railroad lines which bolstered Oklahoma’s ranching industry.

The next morning was the start of our final day of exploration. In my initial planning of the trip, I had looked up Oklahoma sites on the National Park Service website and found the Chickasaw National Recreational Area. It provided a chance to experience the nature of Oklahoma, and it was the only Oklahoma stop I put on the schedule. I foresaw a potential chance to find a hiking trail and take a quick stroll through a lakeside environment. Our motel was basically just a half hour south of the National Recreational Area, so that morning we headed off for some early recreation. A half hour later, we exited the interstate and headed east towards the National Recreational Area. A few minutes later in the town of Sulphur, we saw a sign directing us south to reach the recreational area. Another sign next to it informed us that this road was also the way to the Chickasaw Cultural Center. As we headed down the side road, we noted the multi-building cultural center as we passed, raising our interest in checking it out on the way back. We reached the entrance into the recreational area and drove in. The road led to a small roundabout next to an open field and a small forested stream in the western corner of the recreational area. If we had traveled just a little farther through Sulphur, we would have come upon the main entrance into the recreational area. However, we still got out of the car and explored the field and stream area. We met a park ranger at the stream who was taking water samples and measuring water levels. She told us that a wetter-than-normal spring season had increased water levels. Our conversation gave us a nice perspective of the nature of the Chickasaw National Recreational Area.

A flowing stream within Chickasaw National Recreation Area, OK

As we drove out of the recreational area, we followed up on our improvised interest and drove into the Chickasaw Cultural Center. What we discovered was a major preservation and informational center about the cultural aspects of the Chickasaw tribal society past and present. We did not have time to go through the main museum exhibits or enjoy the theater, but we were able to check out the art gallery featuring hand-weaving designs among other exhibits and the traditional village spread out on a broad field bordering the Chickasaw National Recreational Area. Displays within the village buildings added to the perspective of a major Native American culture.

Village meeting ground at the Chickasaw Cultural Center in Oklahoma

Even though the Chickasaw stops completed my initial schedule list, the reason we were pressed for time was because of an additional stop my friend had requested be added during our trip planning stage. As I noted earlier, my friend is an avid lover of history, and he remembered a history class discussion about a western outpost in Oklahoma named Fort Sill, which was now preserved as a national historic site. Even though I could not find it on the National Park Service website, it was easy to find on my map planning program just sixty miles west of the Chickasaw National Recreational Area. I was also able to track it on my iPad Map App before we headed toward Lawton and Fort Sill. As we reached Lawton and its intersection with Interstate 44, I noted on the iPad Map App that the Fort Sill site was just a few exits north of us and I drove onto the interstate to reach this exit. As I reached what I felt should be proper exit, I saw the exit sign did not identify the street and had a smaller sign indicating proper ID was necessary. I surmised that this was not the proper exit and that I had misread the map app, so I drove on. However, when the next exit proved to be a few miles beyond, I realized that I had judged wrong and exited. As it was around noon, we decided to stop for a quick bite, then we headed back to the other exit. When we got off at the other exit, we found ourselves heading to a military gate. What we discovered from the guard at the gate was that the Fort Sill Historical Site was in the middle of a current US Army base. At one time, US citizens were allowed to enter the base with standard photo ID to visit the historic site, but since 9/11, potential visitors now had to go to the visitor center in Lawton to have their IDs checked before being allowed to enter the base and visit the historic site. Throughout this trip, my friend had razzed me about being passé about using maps, even in digital format, to guide us, when everybody uses GPS on their cell phone to direct them. So now, my friend searched the visitor center address and entered it into GPS Siri. After a roundabout path, Siri guided us to a corner farm machinery storage area, a far cry from the visitor center. By this time, we figured it was time to move on.

Since there were no more scheduled stops and my friend’s flight was scheduled to leave Denver the next day, there was no reason for us to worry about staying at a motel along the way home. We drove north on Interstate 44 through Oklahoma City, where we transitioned onto Interstate 35, then continued north into Kansas, passing through Wichita. When we reached Interstate 70, we got off for dinner, then jumped back onto 70 West towards Denver. It was about eleven thirty at night when we reached my home. We crashed for the night and I drove my friend to the airport the next morning.
It was amazing just how many sites we had explored in the center of our country within a single week. We had covered a lot of history, experienced the nature of the plains region, and had sampled some iconic barbecue flavors. We also experienced the wonderful assets and occasional limitations of our modern technology to help guide us through this trip. It was also amazing to experience this trip with a longtime friend.

Central Plains Road Trip – Part 2

My one week Central Plains road trip with my friend through Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma had just begun in Kansas with a quick look at a preserved western town in Dodge City and a walk-through look at Fort Larned National Historic Site, a major western military location on the Santa Fe Trail, but now, on our first full day of travel, we were attempting to visit two major presidential libraries in the same day in order to give my friend’s suggestion to add Hannibal, Missouri to our schedule a chance. We reached Abilene, Kansas around lunchtime and stopped off for some subs before heading over to the Eisenhower Library.

The Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum was designed to preserve and honor the life, work, and history of the 34th president of the United States for both general tourists and historical researchers. Abilene was Eisenhower’s hometown, and the location of the museum and library was chosen to include his original boyhood home. We were able to take a tour within his house, viewing original preserved furniture and a family bible. The house, museum, and library surround a long, grassy courtyard, and at one end of the courtyard is a church-like Place of Meditation, which houses the final resting place of President Eisenhower and his wife. On the other end of the courtyard, a statue of Eisenhower in his general’s uniform, surrounded by honorary pylon plaques, looks down toward the Place of Meditation. We went into the museum and traveled through a maze of rooms that took us through historical objects that demonstrated Eisenhower’s childhood, his early military service, his military leadership during World War II, his presidential campaign, and his accomplishments during his terms as President. The library, which is reserved for serious historical research, was not a part of the tour.

Eisenhower memorial at Eisenhower Presidential Library in Abilene, KS

After taking in the perspective of the Eisenhower administration, it was time to try and zip over to Independence, Missouri and see if we can check out his predecessor’s library in the same day. Independence is basically a connected suburb of Kansas City, Missouri, so the distance wasn’t far. However, not only did our time at the Eisenhower Library and Museum take a lot of time in the afternoon, but the Truman Library and Museum was not readily near the interstate, so we arrived at the museum at its closing time. I really did not expect to visit both museums in the same day, so I was fully prepared to calmly inform my friend that we had no time to add Hannibal to the schedule. We checked in at the motel where I had made reservations, then headed back into Kansas City to find a good barbecue meal. Kansas City is one of a select group of cities known for its unique barbecue style of cooking, and just before we started the road trip, a neighbor of mine gave me four top barbecue places to choose from. For our dinner, I selected the place closest to our motel, unaware of its longtime reputation. Arthur Bryant’s is housed in a brick building in a bare industrial section of the city, and diners get their food through a fast food buffet style line before paying a cashier and finding an empty table with their food, but a quick taste of the barbecue meats quickly shows why the walls are covered with pictures of celebrity patrons including former President Obama. It was a perfect example of Kansas City barbecue.

The next morning, we headed back up to the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum. The Truman Library was smaller than the Eisenhower Library, since it was did not have extra historical buildings like a boyhood home or meditation chapel. Both the library and museum were in the same building which wrapped around a small garden. In the garden were the gravesites of both Harry and Bess under flat stone markers. Just like the Eisenhower Library, the Truman Library section was reserved for serious historical research, but the museum portion which took up most of the building covered Truman’s life from childhood and starting life running a haberdashery to being elected to office, being selected as FDR’s final Vice President, and having to take over the Presidency after FDR’s death near the end of World War II. Of course, this led to Truman faced with having to make the decision to use the atomic bomb on Japan. The museum included a reproduction of the Oval Office during Truman’s administration and his home office after leaving the Presidency. After our tour of the museum, we were given directions to Truman’s home in Independence. We did not have time to find the separate location of the visitor center in order to get tickets to tour inside the home, but we did stop to take pictures of the quaint two story house before heading on to St. Louis.

Harry and Bess Truman’s grave sites at Truman Presidential Library in Independence, MO

St. Louis is mainly known as the home of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, otherwise known as the Gateway Arch. However, just fifteen minutes across the Mississippi River in Illinois is a World Heritage Site, protected as an Illinois State Park, which is known as Cahokia Mounds. Since my research showed me that the Arch would be open a lot later than Cahokia Mounds, my schedule was set up to zip over to the Mounds first and come back to the Arch. By mid-afternoon, we parked in the lot next to the visitor interpretive center and cultural museum. The Cahokia Mounds were large mounds of earth constructed by a Native American culture that flourished around Europe’s Medieval Age and declined just before Columbus’ discovery of the Americas. Although more natural in construction with wood and earth, the mound structures and surrounding village features were very reminiscent of Aztec culture. The site had many miles of nature trails within the surrounding woods, but we just had time to walk the short trail around the Twin Mounds near the interpretive center, then go across the street to the large double mound structure called Monk’s Mound. A wide set of stairs has been built into one side of the Monk’s Mound, enabling easy access for visitors to climb to the top. From there, we were able to see urban and natural landscapes around us, including the nearby Gateway Arch and downtown St. Louis to the southwest. We got back into my car and drove back to St. Louis.

Monks Mound close up at Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, IL

The Gateway Arch is nestled up to the west shore of the Mississippi River and anchored in the heart of downtown St. Louis, which means getting to the Arch and finding parking brings up the same obstacles one would find navigating any central downtown area. We wound up finding street parking, but luckily, since it was late in the day after normal work hours, we were not bound by parking time limitations. We were also within a few weeks of the first day of summer with daylight savings time hours, so we still had plenty of sun to view the memorial. The visitor center is in the nearby Historic Old Courthouse, which is where we had to go to get tickets for the tram car to the top of the Arch. The scheduled time for our tram access was an hour away, so we went across the street to an Italian restaurant for dinner, then we walked over to the Arch. Renovations were currently in process around the Arch which had temporarily closed the north tram, so all visitors were lined up for the south tram, a set of claustrophobic cubicles that transported us to the top of the Arch. The low hanging sun may have made looking down at St. Louis somewhat difficult, but seeing the shadow of the Arch stretched out across the Mississippi and toward the east was amazing.

Looking across the Mississippi River into Illinois from the top of the Gateway Arch (Jefferson National Expansion Memorial) in St. Louis, MO

From St. Louis, it was now time to head south. In order to get us closer to the southern loop through Arkansas and Oklahoma, with jaunts into north Mississippi and Memphis, Tennessee, I had set up a reservation at motel close to the Missouri border with Arkansas. It was late at night when we got there, but we would be prepared for the next day’s schedule.

To be continued…

Central Plains Road Trip – Part 1

In one of my earlier posts from a few years ago regarding the accounting of my travel bucket lists, I noted that I ranked the states I had checked off on the “US states visited” list in several categories. These categories were based on when in my lifetime I had visited these states and the quality of the visit. The lowest category was marked for those states I had visited before the age of two. It refers to the earliest period of my life when my father had a job maintaining military radar installations across the country, which resulted in our family packing and moving three times across the country until we moved to Florida where my father changed jobs, allowing us to buy a home and stay put during the rest of my childhood. Since that time, several of my travels had led me to come back and explore many of the states that I passed through during these early pre-conscious period moves, thereby allowing me to upgrade the visited states to a higher category. At the time of my earlier post, there were five states left in this category, but last year’s road trip upgraded Nebraska from this category, leaving just Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. This year I planned a road trip to focus on these four bordering states in the Central Plains of North America.

I began planning my trip last year, setting out a general course and looking for interesting sites to visit within or near these states. Around the holidays, I called a longtime friend back in Los Angeles to wish him well and mentioned my summer road trip plans. Almost immediately, he asked if he could come along. It felt great to consider having a travel partner to share a trip. However, he was limited to one week and had a set flight schedule in and out of Denver, restricting our capability to adapt the basic road trip for improvised added stops, but my friend seemed very eager to suggest new additions to my original stops list as the time for the road trip neared. Finally, as June arrived, he flew in to join me on a trip through the Central Plains.

On my original base trip, I had only one stop to represent Kansas, Fort Larned National Historic Site, which I found on the National Park Service website. It was just an hour south of I-70, making it a quick stop along the route. One of the first suggested additions from my friend was the Eisenhower Presidential Library in Abilene, also just off of I-70. It reminded me that the Truman Presidential Library was in Independence, Missouri, also just north of I-70, so to keep the trip politically balanced, I suggested adding this as well, which he excitedly accepted. Then, with about a month before the trip was to begin, he added another suggestion for Kansas, stopping in Dodge City, where a portion of the original Western town had been preserved. Looking at the map, Dodge City proved to be a major side trip off the interstate, so to please my friend and add Dodge City to the itinerary, we had to forgo the one day rest and prep following his early morning flight into Denver and drove off right after lunch to our first stop. Unfortunately, our arrival in Dodge City was just as the Boot Hill Museum, which preserves the original western town buildings, was closing for the day. There was no time to come back the next morning, so we took pictures of the town buildings through the surrounding fence and picked up a few souvenirs from the gift shop before it closed. Then, we headed to our motel.

Old wagon alongside the officers’ buildings at Fort Larned NHS, KS

The next morning we drove from Dodge City to the Fort Larned National Historic Site, which provided us with an interesting perspective of the US Cavalry during the western expansion and settlement during the post-Civil War period. Because this was a major fort positioned where the Santa Fe Trail crossed the Pawnee River, one’s initial impression would be that it would be surrounded by a tall protective wall, but there was no wall. The fort’s barracks and quarters were built in a rectangular fashion around an open field, but there were no protective defensive barriers around the buildings. As we discovered, this was unnecessary, as Native American tribes within the central plains region realized the futility of attacking a major military installation full of armed soldiers. Conflicts came about when troops were sent out to defend settlers or remove Native Americans from lands now claimed for a rising new country. After a quick hour of gaining this new understanding of American history, we set off northeast toward I-70 and onward to Abilene, the home of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Museum and Library.

Just about a week before my friend flew in to begin our journey, he had sent me a suggestion to add Hannibal, Missouri to the schedule. As one can readily surmise, my friend has a very big love of American history and gaining a close-up perspective on American literary legend Mark Twain was exciting for him. However, his pre-set one-week flight schedule was already putting a strain on our current scheduled stops and planned travel loop, and Hannibal would expand that loop off the interstate by several hours. In addition, our next two scheduled stops at two major presidential libraries were major time fodders for history buffs. I told him that the only way we would be able to fit Hannibal into the schedule was if we were able to reach and go through both presidential libraries in the same day. It was still morning on our first full day of travel as we headed towards Abilene, Kansas. Could we see two presidential museums in the same day?

To be continued…