Friday, October 29, 2010


So, our vacation is over and I apologize for not finishing up the last few days. You'll be glad to know that we didn't do much but drive and drive and drive and stay in a really expensive hotel. By really expensive I do not mean super nice, just really expensive.

The real news is that because I enjoyed this experience so much, I've decided to blog about our daily lives. Admittedly, they're not that interesting right now (compared to a cross-country road trip) but I think it's fun, so I'm going to do it.

You can see my other blog at

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

September 25, Day 23

We crossed the Mississippi again this morning, into Illinois! We drove to Nauvoo through a chilly, misty morning to attend the 10 o'clock session at the Nauvoo temple. The drive took us along the "Great River Road" (which we did drive on last night but it was too dark to notice) which hugs the banks of the Mississippi. The big river just makes you think big thoughts. Most of mine were actually about Huckleberry Finn. I felt so American, watching this great river roll past through the window. Colby was busy exceeding all reasonable speed limits on wet roads to get us to the temple on time, but I really enjoyed the view.

The temple was wonderful. What a beautiful place! You can almost imagine that it's the very same structure the early saints built and loved. I love that it has been built so exactly like the original. The inside is beautiful, so regal in its simplicity - plain and precious, I would say. My favorite. We loved the session, and, as usual, came out feeling peaceful and centered. How grateful we are for temples! It was hard to imagine building this large, stately, sacred building at such great sacrifice, and then having to walk away from it and face the west, as the early saints did. What a heartbreaking duty that must have been, for so many!

We didn't plan on spending much time in Nauvoo, but once we got started, we were hooked. We ended up wishing we had days and days to spend there. We started with the Joseph Smith homestead, red brick store, and gravesite. It was so thrilling to think we were standing on ground the prophet himself must have walked! After that, we saw Brigham Young's home, John Taylor's home, post office, and printing press, and Heber C. Kimball's home. When we only had time for one more, I wanted to go to the Family Living Center, which apparently talks about baking and textiles and other interesting aspects of pioneer life, but we settled on the Jonathan Browning gunsmith shop. You can guess which of us had his heart set on that! The gunsmith shop was actually SO interesting, and we loved learning about the guns. Did you know Browning (yes, THE Browning) was a Mormon? We didn't!

Anyway, Nauvoo was so wonderful. We were sorry we had to leave and miss a single bit of it. Even though it had been pouring rain ever since we came out of the temple.

We drove to Springfield through LOTS of rain. By which I mean, COLBY drove to Springfield through lots of rain. He's such a good husband. I think he's driven like 97% of this whole trip. We arrived at the Super 8 just in time for me to watch the General Relief Society Meeting broadcast. It was just wonderful, as always. It made me so excited for General Conference that I can hardly stand it. We even got to hear from the prophet himself!

One of the great treats (for me) about being back in the Midwest is seeing things I remember from my childhood. Some of them are super familiar, like Meijer and Dunkin Donuts, but some I haven't thought about in years (like Bob Evans), and so I have a great time yelping and pointing things out to Colby from the passenger seat as I see signs and storefronts and even native vegetation that I recognize. It's been so much fun, and Colby's done really well not getting us in any accidents from my squealing and startling him every 5 minutes.

We had dinner at Steak'n'Shake, another friendly name from my childhood. We used to go camping at Warren Dunes, on Lake Michigan, in the summers with some family friends, and we'd stop for lunch at Steak'n'Shake on the way there. Another thing I haven't thought about in years but suddenly came rushing back last night.

September 24, Day 22

We went to Independence first thing in the morning. The visitors' center was great, and it's just a beautiful little place. We saw the temple lot, unfortunately not owned by the church (yet). It felt really momentous, being in such a special place. I hope to go back someday.

Our next stop was the Community of Christ temple, which is right nearby. Our tour guide was a nice older lady who seemed a bit lonely and was therefore overly chatty. The tour was WAY longer than we wanted to spend in there. In fact, all we really wanted was to show ourselves around, but we made the mistake of asking a lady at the desk for a little information. Oops. We came out feeling empty and chilled. There are a lot of good intentions, and apparently a lot of good works, but there was hardly any presence or indication of Christ in the building. It was mostly about world peace, barely religious at all. It was really enlightening, and we were so glad to get back in the car and listen to MoTab to invite the Spirit.

Liberty Jail was our next stop. We were refreshed to have an elegant, loving senior sister give us an excellent, Spirit-filled presentation and tour. You can just feel truth, you know? We felt very privileged to be so near to such a hallowed place.

After Liberty Jail came Far West and the temple site, and then Adam-Ondi-Ahman. The valley is just beautiful and there is a wonderful Spirit of peace, memory, and potential that fills it.

We slept in Keokuk, Iowa tonight. We were so tired and it was so dark that we almost didn't even notice when we crossed the Mississippi!

September 23, Day 21

Three weeks on the road, today! We're proud of ourselves. Also, it may or may not be getting slightly old.

We roused ourselves long enough to go enjoy the continental breakfast, then I read and Colby slept until 11. Mmmmm.

Checkout was a COMPLETE success, we told the guy at the desk how grossed out we were, and he gave us a coupon for a free night at any La Quinta. SCORE. We are now satisfied customers.

We went to Winter Quarters this morning. It was drizzling and gloomy, which we figured was appropriate for learning about pioneers. We had a tour of the visitors' center, then walked around outside. We saw the temple and the statue that Colby's grandma and her twin sister had unveiled as little girls. There were some nice French tourists there who had Colby take their picture. It was so fun to chat with them, because they didn't speak English. Like, at all. They had their son there, who's an American now and translated for them, but they really JUST spoke French. Can I tell you how much I love it when you're speaking to someone who doesn't speak your language, so they just chatter to you in THEIRS, because hey, might as well talk, on the off chance we can make ourselves understood to each other? It's SO FUN. It was especially fun because I DID understand a lot of what they were saying - 3 semesters of French may not allow me to actually formulate anything to say to them, but I could piece together their chatter. Also, they shared some European mints with us which should really catch on in the United States. It was fun to feel connected to Latter-day Saints from halfway across the world. The Church is just as true there as it is here. They were going to finish up their trip with General Conference in Salt Lake City, and they were so excited.

It was appropriate that we were near the Winter Quarters statue (the one that Colby's Grandma Erickson had unveiled) when Sonja called and told us that Grandma Erickson had passed away that morning. We are so sorry for the loss of such a sweet lady. We are going to abbreviate our trip significantly in order to allow Colby to fly to Utah and attend her funeral.

After Winter Quarters, we went to the Kanesville Tabernacle on the other side of the river, in Council Bluffs. I'll admit that until I found it on a list of "Places to Visit" on the Church website, I had never even heard of it! It's a replica of the tabernacle the saints built while living in the area, in which (significantly) the prophet Brigham Young and his counselors were sustained. A pretty important spot! There were nice senior missionaries there, and we enjoyed learning about the history. This tabernacle was also the enlistment place for the Mormon Battalion, so we got to learn about my ancestor, Jonathan Harriman Holmes, who was a member of that battalion. Among other things, we learned that he lived with the Prophet Joseph Smith for a while!

It was rainy and overcast all day on the road, and Colby heroically drove us through a big rainstorm. We read and listened to books and ate junk food - all the important parts of a good roadtrip. In Kansas City we found another La Quinta to redeem our newly-acquired coupon. Luckily, this one looks cleaner than the last one.

Colby was kind enough to stay in the hotel room and let me finish the last 30 or so pages of my book (A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Grisham) before dinner. I hate to leave a book so close to the end, you know? Anyway, it was wonderful. The end was so heartbreaking and beautiful, and it tied up the whole thing so richly that I pretty much sobbed for like a half hour and then my eyes were dry afterward because I used up this week's (and next week's) lacrimal glad quota. I pulled myself together and then we went to find some dinner.

Finding dinner turned out to be harder than we expected, because our GPS unit, Lee (it's not Kareema anymore, we got tired of Arabic and changed it to a really throaty Australian guy) kept leading us to restaurants that turned out to not exist. For example, Al's Barbeque is apparently located at some shady, broken-down old railroad bridge in back of a casino. Mmm, nope.

When we came back to the hotel room, I was freezing. This is typical for me. Anyway, I turned on the heater and immediately this awful burning stench came out, choking us both and setting off the fire alarm in under 10 seconds. The cleaning lady was looking at us funny when fled out into the hallway, and I said, "my bad." I think it was just our room though, because we didn't have to evacuate the whole building. Which is good. It stopped after a few minutes and I decided to just put on a sweater instead.

September 22, Day 20

It was far too windy this morning to bother with breakfast, so we just wrestled our parachute tent into the car and drove away. Sometimes you just have to drive away and not look back. Luckily, we didn't get stampeded by buffalo in the night, which I was vaguely afraid would happen. You'd think in a park full of buffalo they'd put a fence or at least a cattle guard or something around a campground. Or not.

Once again, the weather bent to our iron will, and saved the ominous clouds slash rain for a day of DRIVING. It's nice that the weather understands who's boss around here. The gloomy weather did make the landscape even more stark and impressive - we really enjoyed our drive out through the Badlands. Plus I just feel so cool saying "Badlands." I feel like a cowboy. "Howdy, just rode in from Sioux City. Sure, it was a long drive across the Badlands, but if he knows where the water tanks are a man can survive." YES.

We stopped at the Minuteman Missile National Memorial a few miles outside the park. They give tours of a non-operational old missile silo! I startled myself by realizing that not only did I not know where all our nation's nuclear weapons are kept, I hadn't even ever wondered. Way to be an informed citizen. Turns out they're all over the great plains states. I guess if I had ever thought about it I assumed they were in a giant warehouse in Washington. Sometimes my intelligence level intimidates people.

Colby LOVED the missile memorial. I thought it was interesting for about 10 minutes, and then I got antsy and wanted to go. This equates to a perfect role reversal from how we react to museums about cowboys and indians, so I think it was fair that we went.

Other than that, we pretty much drove all day. It was a gloomy day, but we liked driving across the plains. They're really flat. And we found the "amber waves of grain." We had lunch at Taco John's. Isn't that the dumbest restaurant name ever? I was busy laughing about it the first time I saw a sign, and then Colby started singing the jingle, and I realized it was a chain. And my husband knows the theme song. They could at least make it Taco Juan's. I mean, PLEASE.

We also finished our book, Life of Pi, and were so depressed afterwards that we had to stop at Target in Sioux City, Iowa, and buy me some chocolate. Suddenly, just within today's drive, it's gone from dry and windy to seriously HUMID. Welcome back to the Midwest! It's good to be home.

We arrived in Omaha at about 6 in the evening, and you should have seen our faces. The last big city that we saw was Salt Lake, and that was like three weeks ago. We were like, WHAT? Where did all these PEOPLE come from? Look at all the cars! When did they start building buildings that tall?! We sere so blown away we tried to turn the wrong way down a one-way street. Felt like the Beverly Hillbillies.

We've had an Applebee's gift card burning a hole in our pockets since we got married, and we decided that tonight we'd USE IT. Livin' it up in Omaha, NE. We casually asked the guy behind the La Quinta desk about restaurants, and he wasn't much help. There didn't seem to be a lot, "I mean, unless you want to go to Applebee's." We looked at each other, walked out the door, and high-fived. That's exactly where we wanted to go. Success.

Unfortunately, that was about the only thing helpful about La Quinta for our whole stay. When we got back to our room, we realized the toilet was a mess - just hadn't been cleaned from the last people (who must have been seriously gross)! So we asked to switch rooms. So they put us in a room with dirty sheets covered in someone-else's-hair. Double gross. So we switched rooms again, and we didn't look too closely, just went to bed. We didn't want to know.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

September 21, Day 19

We chatted with an old lady from our cave tour while we ate breakfast. By the time we had finished our cereal, we were such good friends she was showing us pictures of the time her husband’s Cornhuskers hat had blown into the North Platte River. One thing I love about traveling is meeting people. The old innkeeper man was jumping up and down behind the counter, trying to be as tall as Colby. He was an interesting man. Last night he asked us if we had any kids yet, and when we said no, advised us to “get to work.” This morning, his wife made fun of Colby for eating Fruit Loops, saying he’d have a sugar rush and I’d have to drive. I wish we could figure out if they were Russian or French – it’s been bothering me. Colby: “They were the kind of people you’d expect to smell funny.”

We took the scenic drive through Wind Cave National Park as we headed north. I saw what I thought was my first bison ever, until I remembered having seen some when I was in Yellowstone as a kid. And Colby reminded me that we saw some in Yellowstone when we went last month. Oh, never mind. We did start counting how many we saw, though, and were proud of ourselves for getting to 17, until we came around the corner and found the herd. There were well over 200, all spread out in a field. They were even in the road, farther down. It was startling, and so impressive. It really made us wish we had been able to see bison in all their glory, ruling the plains in herds 1000s strong. I’ve never been a conservationist, but I really do hope they have some reproductive success and can repopulate the plains country. If only because plains country is so much more interesting with buffalo in it. And then we can all eat buffalo again, and wouldn’t that be delicious? Plus, buffalo skin rugs are probably really warm.

After we left Wind Cave, it wasn’t long until we got to Crazy Horse Memorial. The admission price may or may not have been slightly exorbitant, but we were there, so we went. It was large. It isn’t done. They’ve been working on it for like 62 years or something, and it’s not done. There's no excuse for that, if you ask me. The reason for the exorbitant pricing came to light when we watched the introductory video and discovered that the sculptor's family has refused every repeated funding offer from the government - if there's one thing you can say for them, they stick to their political ideals. Unfortunately for us tourists, free enterprise has its price. Also, it has resulted in a lot of kitschy side attractions. There's also no lack of ambition around here. We saw an architect's interpretation of the end plans for Crazy Horse Memorial, and they got a little out of hand. Involving a reflecting pond, a museum, a university and a medical center. Whoa, kids. Try and finish the statue first.

I liked the idea behind the sculpture, though - to give the native peoples of this land a monument to their heritage. And I think the mountain will be really stirring and impressive when it's finished - I just don't know if my grandchildren will still be alive to see that.

After Crazy Horse, we moved on to smaller but more impressive things - Mount Rushmore. We were thrilled and amazed and inspired. It was spectacular. Alright, first of all, the original idea was to build statues of great western heroes out of the needles spires of rock in the Black Hills. How sweet would that have been? Okay, not as patriotic, but imagine seeing 400-foot tall full-body carvings of Lewis and Clark and Buffalo Bill Cody. YES.

Instead, the sculptor (prudently) thought that a sculpture that big should have a bigger meaning. He wanted to choose something symbolic of the men who helped in the founding, growth, preservation and development of our nation. So he picked Washington (founding), Jefferson (growth), Lincoln (preservation) and Roosevelt (development). Interesting! We really enjoyed reading little bios about each president included, and were impressed at each of these great men that have been our leaders. We especially enjoyed learning about Teddy Roosevelt and better appreciating why he gets to be up there with the big guys.

Before we left on our trip, someone who heard we were going to Mount Rushmore told us we had to try the ice cream. I keep trying to remember who it was. Anyway, it was such bizarre advice, we remembered it. Ice cream at Mount Rushmore? Turns out it's an institution, and it's also delicious. I felt very American, gazing at Mt. Rushmore with an ice cream cone in my hand. At some point someone pointed out how American Mt. Rushmore is - do nothing halfway. And make it really spectacularly huge.

Next was Badlands National Park. It was some of the weirdest landscape Colby and I had ever seen, but strikingly beautiful. On one side of the road, flat grassland rippled off into the cloudless distance, seedy stalks waving. On the other side, a sandy cliff dropped abruptly off into the most irregular maze of low grassy mesas and hills of dirt. The grass was a patchwork of colors, and the dirt was a rainbow. And in the far distance, a reptilian spine of weird, finger-like rock formations. It was so strange, and all in eerie pastels. So weird, and so pretty. And also there were more herds of buffalo. This time the bison herd covered the road again, and we had fun leaning out of the windows taking pictures of them while we waited for them to move. It was weird to have an eye-level view into a buffalo herd - they were all standing around, or sitting, in families or pairs, and... just doing whatever it is bison do on a daily basis. I almost felt like I was invading some kind of bison privacy, looking in. Imagine living life as part of a herd - there would be an undeniable sense of community belonging.

In other wildlife news, I spotted a fox with our binoculars. I was so excited. It was prowling around the edge of a bunch of prairie dogs and I hope it got lucky. And also we passed a group of bighorn sheep. Before I actually saw a bighorn sheep, all I knew about them was that Bill Peet book, Buford the Little Bighorn, and I would think of them skiing down a mountain on their horns. Now all I can think of is their creepy eyes. What you DON'T know about bighorn sheep is that their eyes look like they want to hurt you. There's something really sinister about bulging orange cat-slitted bighorn sheep eyes. You can just tell they're smarter than their domesticated cousins, and they're about to use the extra intelligence against you. NOT the kind of eye you want to have looking at you while you sleep.

On our way out to the campground, we stopped at a turnoff called Robert’s Prairie Dog Town. Dad? Why didn’t you ever tell me you had one of these? Are you like the emperor or something? Emperor Robert of Prairie Dog Town. Maybe you want to noise that around a little more. I can just see Gramps taking you there when you were little: “Robert, look around you. Everything the light touches will someday be yours.” Anyway, it was hilarious. I think prairie dogs are just about the most entertaining things. And I was thinking, if I were a buffalo, I would definitely want to eat them. I know buffalo are herbivores, but if you had all these little bite-sized morsels right by your feet all the time, wouldn’t you just want to try one, just to see what it tasted like? I bet bison secretly eat prairie dogs like all the time. Buffalo snacks. And if you’re not going to eat them, at least mess with them a little. The bison we were watching seemed completely ignorant of their presence. It’s just weird to see these huge behemoths wandering around the prairie, with this whole other population of teeny rodents going completely unnoticed beneath their feet. Maybe they drop kick them when no one’s looking.

The campground was exceedingly windy. I'm so tired of wind. It was also cold. We bundled up and cooked our dinner as best we could, then battened down all the hatches, staked down our tent in every place we could think of, and got in. Earplugs are the way of the future, as far as windy nights in tents. (Although, waking up several times during the night, I found my earplugs back in my right hand every time. Weird. I have a really determined subconscious).

September 20, Day 18

As much as I hate to badmouth a KOA, this one’s location left something to be desired. We spent the night of our 3-moth-iversary listening to cars on the highway, airplanes going over and taking off from the airport, and being battered by a ridiculous windstorm that filled our tent with a fine, black dust. Ewwwww.

After breakfast, we hit the road. We drove for most of the morning, which we didn’t mind at all. Until we got distracted by the book we’re listening to (Life of Pi, which had been unutterably boring up until this point and then suddenly got really interesting) and we missed the turn onto Wyoming state road 24, and then we had to drive like 8 miles until there was even another exit to turn around, whereupon we missed that exit as well and had to drive 6 more miles to the next exit. It was probably not a really great moment for either of us.

We stopped for lunch at the Outpost Café in Lusk, Wyoming. Lusk. Can you think of a weirder town name than that? We said it out loud to ourselves all afternoon, because it was so weird. I think it sounds like Musk at Dusk. Colby thinks it sounds like Lust. I’m not sure the citizens of Lusk would appreciate either of our associations, but then, they shouldn’t have named their town Lusk.

The Outpost Café was full of these little paperback books, all by the same author, and all full of random jokes and quotes and one-liners. They were named things like “How to Confuse the Idiots in Your Life” and “Geezerhood: What to Expect When You’re as Old as Dirt.” The dozens of old people who were also eating lunch in the Outpost Café seemed to be enjoying these books immensely, so we picked them up, and we enjoyed them too. The restaurant was hopping. It’s either the best place to eat in Lusk, Wyoming, or the ONLY place. Actually, it’s not the only place: there was also a Subway.

We got to Wind Cave national park at about 3pm, in time for a cave tour at 3:30. The first thing we noticed, when we got out of the car to take a picture with the national park sign, was the BUGS. There are infinity grasshoppers here. Also bees.

As we pulled into the visitors’ center parking lot, Colby said, “I think I’ve been here before.” And I said, “Again? This has happened multiple times during our short married life so far, several of which have occurred on this trip. I think I just got lapped. While I am still winding my way around the world for the first time, Colby is actually finishing up his second trip. He recognized the parking lot. I can’t wait for the St. Louis Arch, because I know for a fact that I have been there and he has not.

The cave tour was good. Wind Cave is the fourth longest cave in the world, beaten only by Carlsbad Caverns, Jewel Cave (also in SD) and some random one in Ukraine. HOWEVER, they’re still exploring Wind Cave, and according to wind and air pressure studies in the cave, estimate that they’ve only explored 5-10% of it so far. Colby thinks with a little dynamite they could make it the longest right now. There were some interesting cave formations, but we were generally underwhelmed. We wished they could have taken us through all 134 known miles of it, that might have been cooler. Colby wants to be a spelunker. We think all spelunkers must be hungry people, or else cave formations are named by people stuck in caves and starving to death, because they have names like “cave popcorn” and “cave bacon.” To help out, we named “cave wedding cakes” and “cave tortillas” and “cave tamales.”

We found a Budget Host Inn in Hot Springs, South Dakota. Two other couples from our cave tour apparently also found it. We tried to plan a cave tour reunion in the hot tub, but they didn’t seem interested.

We were walking out to the car to get makings for a picnic supper when I convinced Colby to let me eat a Dairy Queen blizzard for dinner. I love him.

We drove to downtown Hot Springs with our ice cream dinner, where we found a beautiful greenbelt-park through town. There’s a little canal running parallel to main street, which they’ve improved into a ribbon-y park that winds around, with picnic tables and trees and grass. There’s even a waterfall! It’s a sweet little spot, and only made us love Hot Springs even more. The downtown is full of old sandstone architecture, left over from the town’s glory days as a hot springs resort. There are over 50 springs in the area, with temperatures from 87-98 degrees. We found one of them in the park with a little gazebo built over it. Overall, we feel like we have found a treasure in South Dakota. Who wouldn’t want to live here? It’s beautiful, quiet, and generally really nice.

HOWEVER. The locust plague of Egypt has apparently descended upon the black hills. I’m not sure what these poor people did to deserve this. We haven’t noticed that the water’s turned to blood yet, so this might still be an isolated event, but be aware. Not only was Wind Cave National Park full of grasshoppers, the rest of South Dakota is too. Tonight we found 4 dead ones on our doormat ALONE.

Also, the sky was green and it was starting to rain as we headed for home after our dinner. We’re glad to be in a hotel tonight.