South Dakota

31 05 2011

Up next is South Dakota.  Here are a few tips we learned while in SD – (1) don’t waste your time visiting Deadwood unless you like cheesy casinos; (2) if a road is not marked on the atlas, it probably means it’s a dirt road; and (3) you can also find a water slide in nearly every hotel.

Since we are not officially counting Deadwood, our first main stop in South Dakota was at Rapid City’s Dinosaur Park. I wanted to go there because it reminded me of “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.”  You drive up a windy hill to get to the park and actually have a nice view of the city from there.  The sculptures were so life-like that we felt as if we wee visiting Jurassic Park. If Mary McCarthy knew how dangerous dinosaurs can be, she might have been scared.

Here’s the first one you see as you walk up the stairs.

Then MMK and I got stuck in the middle of this fierce battle between T-Rex and Triceratops.

This is T-Rex up close.  If you want any more info on this awesome park first opened in 1936, you can click here.

After a short stop in the Dinosaur Park gift shop, we moved on to the main attraction of the day: Mount Rushmore. We must admit, this attraction did not disappoint.

There is a nice park that goes along with everything, as well as flags of every state and info on the sculptor, Gutzon Borglum.  We learned that Borglum also was the sculptor for the carvings on Stone Mountain in Georgia.  If you really want the inside scoop on Borglum, we would suggest you travel to Keystone, SD and visit the Rushmore Borglum Story exhibit. We didn’t actually go to the exhibit, but there were no less than 200 billboards advertising how awesome it was.

Here I am with a sculpture of the sculptor.

Here’s Michele with Mary McCarthy at the start of the walkway that leads to the viewing platform.

The walkway to the viewing platform is lined with flags from each state.

And now for a close-up of each president. The head’s are supposed to each be about 60 feet long.




On our way out of the park, wildlife expert Michele spotted a few mountain goats grazing near the parking lot.  Also checking out the mountain goats were some folks from Texas wearing overalls who had never seen anything like that.  Since they got really close to the mountain goat, I was able to stand a ways behind them and still get a good photo.a


After Mount Rushmore, we headed back into Keystone to check out the Presidential Wax Museum.  And lucky for us, we were the only visitors that morning!  It was a walking tour where you carried a little audio player with you describing each scene.  And I swear to you, the voice on the audio recording sounded like it was Sarah Palin.  We did not use the audio recording for very long.

Anyway, here’s George Washington hanging out with Martha and Betsy Ross.

And Michele with Mary McCarthy crashing a tea party with the Madisons and Monroes.

The sculpture for George W was one of the coolest ones there, commemorating 9/11.

MMK is already appreciating history.

Then I had a staring contest with John Tyler.  I think you know who won.

Here is the profile of Washington that you can see on your way out of the Keystone area.

From Mount Rushmore, we headed to the biggest rip-off in South Dakota – Crazy Horse Mountain. It cost us $11 to get into Mount Rushmore, but it cost $20 to visit Crazy Horse Mountain. And what’s Crazy Horse Mountain exactly? Well, it was supposed to be a Mount Rushmore-esque sculpture of the full body Crazy Horse, only they have only finished the head! They started this sculpture in 1948.

This is what it is supposed to look like when completed:

This is what is actually looks like having been worked on for 63 years:

We really wondered where out $20 might be used.  For more info on this waste of money, you can click here.

Another disappointment… the Bedrock City Amusement Park was not yet opened!!!

Then came something that most certainly did not disappoint… Mitchell, SD.  As we left Rapid City, we were trying to figure out our next place to spend the nigh.  We happened upon a mileage sign that had Mtichell on it, listing it as about 80 miles closer than Sioux City. We decided this was a better option so we could get dinner and a decent night’s sleep. Michele managed to locate a restaurant there called Chef Louie’s, which was one of our best meals on the entire trip. Then the next day, we awoke to take in the awe-inspiring Corn Palace!

The Corn Palace is the main arena in town, serving as the home court for the local college team and the place for concerts. And yes, the outside of the building is entirely covered in corn. To read more on this place, and you most definitely should, click here.

American Pride indeed!


See, it really is corn.

Up next, our not so quick run through the rest of the Midwest!


Wyoming (Part 3)

28 05 2011

While this is titled as Part 3 of Wyoming, it will contain a little bit of Montana.  In fact, it will start with Crow Agency, MT, which is home to the Little Bighorn Battlefield.  The weather was horrible – low 40s, windy, rain – so we did not get out and walk around.  We checked out the visitor’s center then drove around for a few minutes.

Here I am with Mary McCarthy and Sitting Bull in the visitor’s center.

The battlefield had a main grave site right as you drove in, then there were grave stones throughout the field marking exactly where some fighters died.  The US soldiers were marked with white stones and the Native American fighters had copper stones.

This is the monument to the US soldiers.  We took some photos of the Native American monument, but they didn’t turn out very well due to distance and weather.

This is a close-up of a soldier’s grave stone.

We found this statue in Crow Agency a few miles away from the battlefield.

Then we made it back into Wyoming, and Michele made the occasion a memorable one!

We have to give credit to Karen fr our next stop.  Devil’s Tower was a bit out of the way, but we decided to check it out based on her glowing recommendation.  It did not disappoint! We could not decide if it was cooler from a distance or up close.  It was actually America’s first national monument. Be sure to ask Michele about her National Park passport book, as she had to knock on the ranger’s door at Devil’s Tower to get her book stamped.

Here’s Devil’s Tower from a distance.

Here it is closer.  You may recognize the tower from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” which was filmed here.

It was my turn to work the Baby Bjorn.

Geologists are apparently in disagreement as to how exactly the tower was formed (much like the disagreements over the meaning of “San Diego”).  The Native Americans in the area have a legend that the tower rose to save 6 girls from being eaten by bears – you can read more on that by clicking here.

This is on the walking path below the tower.  We decided not to climb it, though that is allowed.

MMK also enjoyed our stay in Wyoming!

Up next is South Dakota, highlighted by Mount Rushmore!

Wyoming (Part 2)

28 05 2011

I thought Wyoming could be covered in just two posts, but I was wrong.  Message: visit Wyoming!  I mean, I will most likely combine Iowa and Nebraska and still have 50 less photos than Wyoming.

We awoke at the Old Faithful Inn to find… snow.  That’s right, we left Alaska so we could find it dumping snow in Yellowstone.  We tried to catch the geyser one more time before we left, but it was snowing too hard.  Yes, it was early May!!!  Then again, our hotel was at an elevation of about 6,500 feet.

Our only complaint about the park was the inability for the park employees to notify us that an entrance/exit was closed. We spent about 4 hours more than we had planned in the park because we would get 3o miles toward an exit only to find out it was closed due to snow.  Then we’d backtrack and find another exit.

On our first attempt to exit the park, we happened one of the few waterfalls we could actually see.  Of course, we love waterfalls and stopped for a few minutes. These are called Undine Falls and found there way to the cover of National Geographic in 1977.  And now, 34 years later, the find themselves on the AlasKane blog.  Movin’ on up…

The growth on this tree was an incredibly cool neon green.

No trip in Yellowstone seems complete without bison traffic.

And our misadventures in exiting did lead us to another coyote.

We drove around a bend and this guy was just sitting on the side of the road having lunch.

Here’s another elk, giving a serious glance to some old folks who were getting a little too close.

And that ends our Yellowstone adventure, though I feel certain I’ll post a few more later. Due to our troubles in finding an exit, we had to leave the park the same way we came in – through Gardiner, MT. We did, however, have a very tasty meal at the Montana Chop House, which is owned by an LSU fan.

Wyoming (Part 1)

26 05 2011

We have to wonder if the name Wyoming is not translated in some language to bison – because we saw tons of bison in that state.  We actually had two stints in Wyoming: one in Yellowstone and another coming out of the park on our way to South Dakota.  Once I got started with the photos, I realized this state would need more than one post.  We’ll see how it goes, but here’s Part 1, focusing on Yellowstone National Park.

We encountered tons of bison right off the start, as you can see.

Come to find out, Michele’s “number two” shot was an action photo.

Just a few miles into the park, we encountered Mammoth Hot Springs.  There are around 10,000 thermal features in the park and close to 300 geysers.  As we drove along, we would just come across little pools bubbling.  But these hot springs we saw right off the bat were very impressive.  The colors were fantastic, and it looked like there were spiderwebs covering everything from due to the steam.




As you may notice looking at the photos over the week, Michele and I will be wearing a lot of the same outfits.  We were not exactly expecting the weather to be as cold as it was.  We were limited in our long sleeve shirts or jackets, so you will be getting an eye-full of my Alaskan Amber jacket!

This is the Steamboat Geyser above and below.  It last had a major eruption in 2005, and we did not see one either.  However, it often has small eruptions that were still quite impressive.  This was the one real hike we took in Yellowstone due to the weather, but we feel like we picked a good one.

You can see the water shooting up on the right.

This is another of the hot springs pools.

And Mary McCarthy looking cute…

This is a coyote we came across on the side of the road (we were hoping it was a wolf, but no).

For a decent amount of our drive on Day 1, we were behind a guy we dubbed “ole eagle eye.”  This guy had an amazing ability to spot wildlife along the road, much like Michele spots whales in Alaska. He stopped for this elk laying out near a river.


Michele got those great shots and this top notch one of a bison with her baby.

In the park, we stayed at The Old Faithful Inn.  And yes, it was about 100 yards from the geyser.  True to its name, the geyser erupted right when predicted.  While the weather was not great, we were lucky to avoid the major crowds of the summer.  We walked up to the viewing area for Old Faithful about 5 minutes before it was supposed to erupt and were in the first row – not a likely occurrence in July.

Mary McCarthy was really happy about that front row seating!


The night ended with us hanging out in the lodge for a bit and taking in the sights.  Here I am with Mary McCarthy in her summer hat.


26 05 2011

State no. 2 was Montana. A few things we learned driving through Montana: the speed limit is 75 mph; there is possibly only one state trooper in the entire state; the drive through the state on I-90 is beautiful; and every hotel has a water slide.

We stayed in Missoula and Billings in Montana.  Michele favorite stop, I think, was at the Butte Plaza Mall/ K-Mart. I enjoyed driving through Anaconda, and I believe MMK was all about the pools.

Here’s a taste of what the drive along I-90 was like.


Here I am with Mary McCarthy for her first time swimming. Her inaugural swim was at the Missoula Courtyard by Marriott. Let’s just she she is greatly taken by the water. We tried to go with the matching mohawks.

My next special request stop (after George, WA) was Anaconda, Montana. I wanted to see in person the world’s tallest smoke stack. We read that it is taller and wider than the Washington Monument, checking in at 584 feet high. If you don’t believe the stats, you can click here. But first, here’s an old train car in town.

I happen to talk to my pal Jim just minutes before we arrived in Anaconda.  Oddly enough, he had done some research on the town some years ago and advised us to drive by the high school, guaranteeing a pleasant surprise. We were not disappointed.  For some reason, the high school has the nickname Copperheads.

And of course, the smoke stack!

Michele put the smoke stack into perspective.

Another point of interest on our trip through Montana was “Our Lady of the Rockies.” This is a 90-foot statue in the Butte area, found high up atop a mountain. You could actually see the statue from the Butte Plaza Mall.  They gave all day bus tours up to the monument, but they weren’t running yet.  It was a pretty cool sight.  For more info on this, such as the story on why it was built in the first place, click here.


After spending the night in Billings, which was most memorable for it’s 900 strip mall casinos, we drove toward Yellowstone and the Chico Hot Springs.  The Chico resort is about 30 miles from the entrance of Yellowstone and was apparently frequented by Ted Turner and Jane Fonda.  We had a nice evening at the resort, then hit the hot springs in the morning.  Here’s Michele and MMK on our way to dinner.

Across from our room at the resort were some horses.  They had horse rides, but we passed on that – MMK was not so sure what she thought of this new animal.

And here’s Michele and Mary McCarthy in the hot springs.

On our way to Yellowstone, we drove through Gardiner which it turned out was home to some bison that hung out around town. These monsters were eating grass on the side of the road just outside of town.


For our final Montana pic, here’s the gateway to the park.  And we benefited from the park and enjoyed the park.  That’s right, we helped carry out the park’s mission!

Up next… Yellowstone National Park.


24 05 2011

In our trip from Bellingham to Mobile, we made it through the following states: Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Alabama. From start to finish (including wrong turns and detours), we covered 3,663 miles.  And believe it or not, Mary McCarthy behaved herself splendidly.  And, in her first seven months she’s seen more states than a lot of 50 year-olds.

I am going to post photos and some recap from each state – though I have to leave out Idaho since we were only in that state for 54 miles around 10pm. So for starters, we’ll hit Washington.  As you will see by the number of photos I’m posting, we had a hard time getting out of Washington because there was too much to see.

We picked up our car in Bellingham on Friday, May 6th at 8am.  We flew into Seattle and stayed with Erin and Scott for the first part of the trip.  We took in a Mariners baseball game first.




We drove to Bellingham on Thursday afternoon, then had dinner at the Boundary Bay Brewery there.  We really did like the town of Bellingham.  Here’s Michele with MMK in the garden behind the brewery where they were having a Cinco de Mayo event.

From Bellingham, we stopped in Snoqualmie to grab some lunch and happened upon the Snoqualmie Falls.  The falls were quite easy to get to, and they were very impressive.



Michele and I are very fond of windmills, and we came across hundreds of them in eastern Washington.  While we were still in Seattle, though, Mary McCarthy apparently had a premonition that we may come across some windmills.

Once we found a rest area, we pulled off to a diaper and take a few photos.


We also happened upon the Wild Horses Monument just off I-90.  There were a few folks climbing up to where the statues were, but that looked like it would take up a little too much time.  So we were left wondering, “Who will ride those wild horses?”

In the very late afternoon, we finally reached our first major attraction… George, Washington!  We expected big things, and the town certainly did disappoint.  So much potential, and yet so little marketing.  We did our best to have fun on this 3-minute stop.


And finally, we had dinner in Spokane.  After dinner, we took a quick run through Gonzaga University, and I took a few photos of the big church on campus.


After Spokane, we had a late drive through Idaho and on to Missoula, Montana.  And so, Montana is up next!

Closer To An Update

20 05 2011

I hate to say it, but I’m still not yet ready to get a full-fledged update on the blog.  Once I get some time to really get some photos uploaded and some commentary on our fantastic trip, I will bring it hard on the blog.  Until then, you will have to enjoy a few quick pics and Twitter updates!