So here we are at Tulppos’ in Bruce Crossing, Michigan. I read that as I write this it is now for sale, which is sad, because it holds such great memories for me. And those I will share wth you now.
Bruce Crossing, Michigan is small. Its mainly a place for folks to drive through on their snowmobiles or on their way to other destinations. It was named after its first postmaster, Donald M. Bruce.
Its about 6:30 pm when we arrive and we had no trouble finding a motel…in fact we drove right to it as we entered town. In we go to get a room. The lady behind the counter was really nice and when we asked for a room she responded with “are you really sure you want to stay here?”. Oh no…when the lady providing customer service is seemingly not recommending the place…it makes one wonder…doesn’t it?
We go and check out the room….its clean and well… its late so we take it. She tells us that there is a restaurant and bar attached to the place so we figure we throw our stuff in the room and head to the bar for some eats and beers. I throw my bags on the bed and head to the bathroom. I wouldn’t normally share my bathroom experiences, but this one is worth telling. I am about set to do my business and sit down on the seat….and then I go flying off the toilet… with the seat. Apparently the newly changed toilet seat had not been secured onto the toilet and was just waiting for its first unsuspecting rider…aka…me.
Now that the bathroom carnival ride was done…I head to the bed and in true Hollywood form, through myself onto it….all the way as I fall, expressing my gratitude for having a place to lay my head tonight and then….I disappeared….literally disappeared. Not due to billowy duvets or stacks of decorative pillows…nope…it was due to the fact that the bed caved right into the middle…both sides of the mattress launched high above my head as I lay there immobilized by mattress and laughter. Thankfully my partner stopped laughing enough to haul me out. At this point I truly am in need of a beer…so to the bar we go.
The place was pretty empty…only the bartender (Mary) and another couple who were also biking around the USA from Canada. We grab a couple of seats at the bar, order some brews and ask for the menu. At this point Mary tells us the kitchen is closed…ugh…no supper. I spot a rack of chip bags and say we will take a couple of those and we will be good. I open my bag….and it was full of chips…sweet. My partner opens his bag…and there were only…three chips in the whole bag. So…we laugh…and order a few more bags to fill our bellies.
We strike up a conversation with the couple beside us. She told us that she brought her own bottle of booze to the bar, and as long as Mary poured the shots, she could drink it. Smart lady…likely this is illegal…but she was going with it. So we all quickly moved from beer to booze…and that is when I decided we needed music to dance. I went to the juke box and started hitting buttons for some tunes. My new lady drinking buddy got up and started dancing too…and then…more people started coming into the bar. Seems like Mary made a few calls to her local friends and family and had said that a wee party was starting so they came out to join us. Oh, important to note here…and Mary decided she would start drinking too….I love this place. She came around the bar and danced a few songs with us and then her mom came in. Now, I wanted to make sure everyone was into the fun zone, so I asked her mom to come dance. And she did…and then she said she couldn’t anymore because…she had just had a hip replacement a few days earlier. Wow…what spunk she had.
Next Marys’ son called and I did what any good patron would do…I grabbed the phone from her and had a motherly conversation with him…what did I say…heaven knows…but he stayed on the line and then eventually came to join the party.
We stayed there until she had to close…which was way after the actual bar hours. So much fun was had. I do have to share with you that Mary decided to give me a souvenir of the bar. She literally jumped up on the bar and tore a large piece of the ceiling off and proudly handed it to me. The ceiling was made of styrofoam, painted black and made to look like we were inside of a mine or a cave. And now, lucky me, I had in my hands a piece of this to cherish for life. I felt truly blessed.
After a poor nights sleep balancing precariously on the edge of the bed so as not to get swallowed whole again, we get up, back the bike and get ready for the long journey home. I did take my souvenir with me because I didn’t have the heart to leave it…I figured it would be insulting to our friend, Mary. Once I realized that I had no where to put it on the bike or in my bags, I hopped on the bike with it in my hands…akward but managable..short term.
As we drove down the road for a while, I just could not hang onto this piece of memorabilia any longer and so on a lonely stretch of highway, with no traffic around, I set it free. Man, did it ever fly….far off into the ditch…a future discovery for another visitor heading out of Bruce Crossing. For such a small town, I have not experienced such hospitality, great fun and open arms as we did there.
We travel through small towns…Watersmeet, Iron River and Crystal Falls. Crystal Falls is an interesting spot. Orignialy founded as a hub town for the iron mining and timber industries that were in the area. It used to be mainly populated by war Veterans. It is also the home to what was, in 1992, the worlds largest living organism….a massive mushroom. This mushroom covered over 35 acres, mainly underground and had spores growing above ground that were 10 cm high. It weighed over 400 tons and was found to be 2500 years old. It fed the roots of the trees, but is also known to take over and destroy a forest. It exists to this day….mushroom risotto anyone?
Of course we stop for lunch…somewhere…and continue pushing on towards home. We drive through Spalding and through Escanaba. This is a port city on Lake Michigan….oh… I should mention we are driving with the great lakes beside us for most of this journey and its spectacularly beautiful. Ok, so back to Escanaba. This lovely town is home of the pastie…nope not the burlesque kind…but rather a tasty meat, onion and carrot filled dough that is fried and is deeelicious. Escanaba is a known as a safe harbor, so you will find the marinas filled with boaters, both local and from all over the world. There is also the famous House of Ludington Hotel, built in 1865, and it is where the famous Al Capone used its underground tunnels in the basement during prohibition…oh you naughty boy Al.
The next small town is Manstique, also known as Emerald City and it has a hidden gem….called Kitch-iti-kipi….or Emerald Springs. On the outskirts of town is the most beautiful spot to take a break and appreciate nature. A tiny natural spring surrounded by lush forest with a walk out built on it that makes the perfect observation point. The waters are straight out of the pictures you see in the tropics….ahhh….I just want to live right here.
We sadly leave the beautiful springs and drive on…through Brevort, St. Ignace, Kinross….and finally….
…we see it…the bridge…the one we crossed 3 weeks ago at the start of this journey. We are now is Sault St Marie, Michigan.
If you read my first blog…if not, why not do it now?…I did not have a passport when I entered the USA and not too surprisingly, I still don’t have one on my return home to Canada. The border guard asked his questions. and smiled when I told him of our journey. All he wanted to know is if I had a good time and I said yes. He smiled again, and said “Welcome home to Canada”. And we crossed the bridge.
We drive the last few hours home in silence….I am reflecting on the journey I have had, the people that I have met, the laughs, the history, the beauty of the ride and the scenery….I wonder….will I ever have an experience like this again?
You bet I do….stay tuned…you are in for a real treat and some amazing adventures on my next blog….when I start my journey and take you to a place that stole my heart….Costa Rica. And yes…this time I travel with a passport.
I never really heard much about or ever planned to go to Minnesota…..but having driven through just a small part of it, from west to east….I have to say….I really love Minnesota. It reminds me of home, and although I wanted to continue travelling west for many more weeks, I am homesick for my children and my puppies. So this is a melancholy part of the journey for me.
Minnesota has many lakes…and that is why it is called the Land of 10,000 Lakes. The western part of the state is primarily farmland, the south eastern area known for its lush forests and the Northern woods area is less populated and is the area for mining and recreation. The state is inhabited by large populations of Germans, Scandanavians and Czechoslovakians. These folks are likely the descendants of the first settlers to Minnesota as they all came from those countries. There is much wildlife here…no…not that kind of wild life, silly…I mean elk, bison, caribou, deer, bobcats, black bear, moose, pheasants and eagles. Hawk Ridge, Minnesota is known as a premier bird watching site in all of North America. I guess there is an abundance of wildlife here because they have 72 protected State parks…over 4 million acres of land….that is incredible.
Minnesota is home to many famous people: musicians Bob Dylan and Prince, cartoonist Charles M. Schulz (he wrote the Peanuts cartoons), and many actors; Loni Anderson, Judy Garland, Josh Harnett and Vince Vaughn.
I am enjoying the ride today….its sunny, the roads are not busy, and there is so much scenery and sights to take in. Like I said in my last blog we drove from Huron, South Dakota to Ortonville, Minnesota which is where we start our tale today.
There isn’t alot to say about Ortonville….its only 9.22 km squared and has a population of 1900. But really, just look at the picture above. Now you understand why we slowly drive through these towns and take many stops to walk around and enjoy the views. One point of interest is it is the hometown of Dan Jurgens, a comic strip writer and artist who worked on the Superman comics. Nice.
Next is Willmar….a lot larger with a population of 19,000. An interesting note about this city is that on July 15, 1930, Machine Gun Kelly and his gang robbed the bank there, on their way to Bremer, where if you read my previous post, you will remember that they also robbed the bank there….of $70,000.00. Interesting that I am on a bank robbers trail…but as I have done many times in my life…I am going backwards…c’est la vie !
I love the name of the next town…St. Cloud. It sounds billowy, and soft and fluffy….lets see if it is. It is a good sized city, with a population of 68,000. Its named after a city of the same name in France, which was named after a 6th Century monk named Clodald. Not sure how this morphed to St. Cloud…but…it did. St. Cloud University sits on the banks of the Mississipi River (yes, that river does actually begin in Minnesota), and is between the downtown and the Beaver Islands. These 30 undeveloped Islands form an incredible 2 mile maze, which draws alot of people in for kayaking and canoeing. I wish I could have gone kayaking there….another item for the bucket list. A fun fact….in 1989 the movie Catch Me If You Can was filmed here.
Now as I have mentioned before, I love and have owned horses. So that is why I am going to share the next town we go through…Mora, Minnesota. A small town which was founded by predominantly settlers from Sweden, it is worth a stop to check out….the Dalecarlian Horse. This beautiful sculpture is traditionally carved from wood, painted red and has decorations all painted by hand in white, green, yellow and blue. It was originally made on a small scale as toys for children. Here in Mora, as a tribute to the country of Sweden, they have built a large sculpture of this horse and it is truly a sight to be seen. In Mora, the sculpture is made of fiberglass, is 22 ft tall, 17 ft long, 6 ft wide and weighs 3000 lbs. Thank goodness its not real because that would be one heck of a hay stack to feed it for just one day.
We have spent alot of time today stopping at sights and of course for lunch, and now it is getting close to dinner time so… that means time to find a spot to spend the night.
We get to Hinkley and start looking for a motel….and we settle on the Days Inn.
You may be reading this and saying, “Gee Jan. Thanks for the riveting photo of a Days Inn”. I know we likely have all seen one, but I posted this for a reason, as I always do. You will see why soon….please take note of the awning area, because it becomes important later. Ohhhh….the intrigue of it all!
We are all settled in, find a place for dinner, and have a restful night. I know I only have two more nights of this trip and I want to take in every moment.
Morning comes and the sun is shining. We aren’t feeling rushed, so its a leisurely start to the day. Breakfast is included with our rooms, so we head down to have a bite. I met a lovely couple from Hawaii at breakfast, and we shared great conversation and coffee. Now its about 10 am and it is time to check out and head out. We head to the bike, which is parked….under the awning (aha, now the picture above comes to mind, doesn’t it?) and get loaded up to go. We head back in to turn in the keys and….the couple from Hawaii come over to say…”you guys can’t leave….look at the sky. A tornado is almost on top of us”. WHAT? I go outside and see that the sky is now pitch black and the rain and hail have started, pouring down. Thankfully again, the bike is under that awning, but we run to the bike and unpack it quickly. We go back inside and ask the nice lady at the check in if we can stay in the lobby for a few more hours, to ride out the storm and if necessary, can we rebook another night if we can’t leave. She is super accommodating and suggests we sit in a room, not by the glass windows of the lobby to ride out the storm. We do just that. I have not ever experienced something so out of my control and so powerful in my life as I did sitting in that room watching our motel be engulfed by rain, winds, flying debris….you name it. It was both awesome and frightening.
After an hour or so, things calmed down, with only a light rain coming down and sunny skies right behind it. We pack up the bike, and decide we are good to go. Obviously we have not ever ridden in the aftermath of a tornado.
The roads are covered in debris. Trees are down everywhere with their branches spanning the road and in some spots massive uprooted trees are leaning precariously in our path. I can’t even properly share the devastation that we witnessed in what was truly a very short amount of time.
Road crews are everywhere and clean up is underway. We swerve to miss obstacles, stop when the crews are clearing a spot right in front of us, and just generally play frogger with the bike on this road. It is highly stressful, yet thankfully there is no real flooding….I don’t know where all that rain went.
We stop after about an hour for some lunch, a break from the driving and from the rain, which has started up again…we want to wait it out for the rain to pass. At the time I didn’t know this, but this tornado was part of one of the most prolific string of tornados that have landed in the USA. There were 94 tornados within a short period of time, and the day this one come upon us, Minnesota ended up having 17 tornados within a few days. 4 of these were F4’s and sadly 4 people died in Minnesota during this time.
We stay out of the rain for lunch for an hour or more and then, as the rain stopped, we headed back out.
Soon we cross into another state, Wisconsin. Known as the dairy state, due to its large production of milk and products from dairy farms, Wisconsin is another of those states that is covered in beautiful forests and lakes. So many notable people come from Wisconsin: Arthur Davidson, co-founder of Harley Davidson (on which I ride, so thank you)…Georgia O’Keefee, artist…Frank Lloyd Wright, architect…Ole Evinrude, motors for boats..,. Chris Farley, comedian-actor…Harry Houdini…Mark Ruffino, actor and Gene Wilder, actor.
I am loving cruising through the small towns and villages again… Danbury, Minong to name a couple. I do have to share a little of what I saw in Hayward, Wisconsin though.
Hayward is not a large town. It is home to the National Fresh Water Fish Hall of Fame…who knew this was a thing…and on its grounds is a massive fiberglass statue of a musky. You can climb into the mouth of this giant fish and look over the town of Hayward and Hayward Lake. Awesome. Hayward also hosts the American Birkebeiner…a cross country ski race. It is the largest of its kind in North America, hosting over 13,000 skiers each year. Hayward is also home to the hideaway of gangster Al Capone who hid out here in the 1920’s and 1930’s. You see….you never know what you will see or find out about in those little towns you travel through….this is what travel is all about to me.
We continue on through Clam Lake, Iron Belt and Montreal (no, we aren’t back to Canada yet) and finally drive across the state line into Michigan.
Michigan is where we first entered into the USA at the very start of this journey (check out my first blog). This time we are on the western side heading east so I get to see some different sights.
Ironwood is the first place we drive through and we keep on riding until around 6:00 pm we arrive in a really small town called Bruce Crossing. Seems like a good place to spend our last night so we pull into the Tulppo’s Motel/Cafe… with its what will become memorable Copper Drift Lounge.
This stop will become one of my favorite memories and has some of the funniest moments of this trip.
So as all good story tellers do….I will leave here…wanting to know what happens…unable to sleep because you are so excited for the story to continue.
We wake up sad to be leaving Deadwood…but…we have only a few days left to make it home and quite a distance to travel. A car trip is alot easier than riding a bike for miles….your butt gets numb and you need to take a quick break every couple of hours….that adds up over the course of a day. A 6 hour travel day quickly turns to 8 or more with all of these stops, and meals and of course, the cool things you just need to stop and explore.
After a quick breakfast, we take a look at the memorabilia displayed in the Celebrity Hotel. It was worth the stop.
You find all kinds of obscure memorabilia, things you would never think you would find in Deadwood. Let me share a few with you.
As you can see from my pictures, there are alot of unique items here. Smokey and the Bandits Trans Am, the jeep from MASH, John Waynes’ personal truck and saddle, the jockey outfit worn by Toby McQuire in Seabiscuit (remember in my earlier blog we met the horse that played Seabisbuit in Kentucky…I love my life!), James Bonds’s Aston Martin and the costume worn by Robin Williams in Hook. And this is only a snapshot of what they have on display. If ever in Deadwood, treat yourself and stop in to the Celebrity Hotel….you won’t be disappointed.
Next we wanted to see the Moriah Cemetary, just on the hill above Deadwood. We aren’t being morbid, but we do want to see some historical gravestones there.
The drive doesn’t take us too long and we arrive at the entrance to this sad but peaceful place.
Deadwood originally had two cemeteries: The Ingelside and the Catholic. I am not certain what happened to the Catholic one, but in 1880 the Ingelside cemetery closed and all of the graves with markers were moved to Mount Moriah. Any unmarked graves were left where they were, and houses eventually were built on the site. To this day, it is not uncommon for a home owner to discover bones when they are gardening.
The cemetery is divided into 6 sections: Potters Field where the bodies of the unknown, unmarked graves lay…Jewish where the large population of Jewish settlers of Deadwood are buried and all of the tombstones are in Hebrew…Mass Grave for the 11 workers that died in a horrible fire at a lumber mill in town…Childrens where the bodies of the children that died from typhoid and smallbox lay…Chinese that used to be quite large, however today it has only 2 bodies left as, per tradition, the relatives transported the bodies home to lay in rest in China…and Veteran for those that fought in the Civil War and the Indian Wars.
The cemetery is laid out in true late Victorian form and is such a peaceful place. On a plateau on top of Mont Moriah, covered in pine trees and overlooking Deadwood, it is a fitting place of rest for the folks of the town.
The pictures above show the view of Deadwood from the cemetery, a view of the landscape of the cemetery, a marker of a child named Nora, Wild Bill Hickok’s original grave in the Ingelside Cemetery and the sign at the entrance to the Chinese section. It is such an amazing place to visit and you can spend hours there trying to see everything and get a feel for the place.
At the top of the hill is the grave of Seth Bullock, honored this way as he was revered as a sheriff and businessman by the people of Deadwood. His wife is buried there too and Seth’s grave faces the Friendship Tower that I mentioned in the blog I posted right before this one.
Wild Bill Hickok is buried here. As I mentioned, we was interned from the Ingleside Cemetery and rests in a grave that is marked by a bust of his head. Beside him lays Calamity Jane. Her dying wish was to be buried next to Wild Bill and they made it so. Seems that Bill and Jane were not close friends, merely acquaintances, but she had a thing in her heart for him that burned til the day she died, and likely still shines bright from her grave.
The pictures above are of Wild Bill Hickoks’ grave and Calamity Jane’s grave. The last picture I did not take but I came across it and had to share…it is Calamity Jane visiting the grave of Wild Bill at the Ingelside Cemetery. I love this stuff !
There are many more notable and interesting graves to see, but it is time to move on and out of Deadwood. We ride East with the goal of getting through South Dakota….little did we realize how far it is across this state. But we will try.
The first town we pass is Eagle Butte, named after the butte of that name. A little town of only 1300 it is on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation. Earl Rose, the medical examiner at the assassination of John F. Kennedy is from here.
Everywhere we drive we see herds of buffalo….I am happy. I know the herds are not even close to what they were many years ago, but when you see 20 or 30 buffalo hanging out….that is a pretty overwhelming sight. They are never fenced in, but seem to not really care about a couple of adventurers zooming by….thankfully.
Let me just share a little about the Cheyenne River Sioux Reserve as we are driving through it. At 4200 square miles it is the 4th largest in the USA. It was created by the Federal Government in 1889 and the well known Chief Sitting Bull lived here. In 1890, several hundred of the Sioux prepared to flee the reservation. On December 16, 1890, before they had a chance to leave, the government sent in 39 Indian police and 4 volunteers to stop them….and to arrest Sitting Bull. Sitting Bull was co-operative while being arrested in his home, but when he exited his house and saw 50 of his warriors standing ready to fight for him, he decided to fight his arrest. Unfortunately, he was killed along with his son and 16 other warriors. It is a very sad end to a highly honored Chief.
Onward we ride…next passing through Gettysburg…nope not the one that you may be thinking of because that one is in Pennsylvania (and spoiler alert….I will be sharing blogs soon about my adventures and ghost experiences there…). This little town has a population of 1100 and it got its name in 1884 as most of the settlers here were Civil War veterans for the Union army. It is so small it has 2 person police force.
The next town is Lebanon, population…wait for it…47…not even breaking the 50 mark yet. In 1885 a man named D.M. Boyle settled here, built a house, opened the first post office and named the place after the town he had travelled from…Lebanon, Indiana…Its really funny how many of the same names are used in towns all over the USA and Canada….makes for good story telling. Lebanon is home to the very first outdoor swimming pool in South Dakota. Built in 1926 the pool finally had to close in 2013 as the town cannot afford the $10,000 per year to maintain it. When asked why the townsfolk didn’t all just chip in and pay for the pool to stay open…this sage elder said, “my dear the average age in this town is 72 and there are only 3 children here…why would we spend our money on that”….fair enough my sweet lady….fair enough.
Have you ever been to a town nicknamed Carosel City? I have…its real name is Faulkton. In 1925, the C.W. Parker Company built a carosel and charged the children to go for a ride. In 1981, it was purchased by a local resident named Bob Ketterling and he let the children ride for free. When he died in 1988, the city purchased the carosel and still lets everyone, young and old, ride for free. I wanted to take a spin….but no time for that today. And as a note, I really admire this entrepreneurial spirit: finding something unique that brings people to your town who never would have known you existed otherwise and it brings magic to the lives of those that take the time to be a child again. Beautiful.
We stop for a bite to eat somewhere, and continue travelling through the tiny towns and now farmlands…through Rockham, Redfield and take a wrong turn down a road that leads us further South than it does East. We are now tired and decide to find a place for the night. Welcome to Huron, South Dakota…home of the worlds largest….(see picture below)…
Yes…you read that right….Huron is home to the worlds largest pheasant…check my bucket list…and cross this one off as done.
Since this pheasant is perched on a motel, the Dakota Inn, we decide this is as good a place as any to stay for the night. We check in and are given the bridal suite…not sure why…but I guess they figured they were giving us the best room they had. So we open the door…and…well lets just say if I get married I won’t be spending my first night as a Mrs. in this room. It was big… huge in fact, and it was relatively clean. What made it unique was the smallest bathroom in the world and the largest dining room set in the world. There was enough seating for 8 around this table, complete with matching buffet. I am not sure who I would be inviting into the bridal suite post nuptials, but it could be quite the party it seems. And the bathroom, well that was a one at a time deal and even at that you had to manouver yourself around the toilet to get in and out of the space. But, it was our home for the night and we were glad to have it.
We decide to head to the motels’ attached bar/restaurant for supper. We order pizza from the menu and beer. It is only 7:30 pm. We get the icy cold beer and are promptly told they have no pizza and the kitchen is closed. However, since they were immensely hospitable. they found frozen pizzas in someone’s freezer and microwaved them for us. Ah, the dinner of true adventurers. We ate and played some pool and then headed to our room to get a good nights rest. I think the giant pheasant has created some good karma for us on this night. Oh, if you are wondering why a pheasant…we are in pheasant hunting country now. Makes complete sense, doesn’t it?
We are ready to ride the next morning and with a wave goodbye to our pheasant friend, we are off, this time heading a little bit north in order to connect to our highway to go east again. We head towards Aberdeen.
Aberdeen is a city with a population of 26,000 and is known as a college town and is home to Northern State University. It was named after Aberdeen, Scotland in 1881 by a settler who was from Scotland. The Super 8 motel chain was founded here and the original one, with over 60 rooms is still operating today. L. Frank Baum was born here, the writer of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz. And Matt Guthmiller was also born here. At one time he was the youngest person to circumnavigate the entire globe by air.
Now we are back on the route we originally wanted to head east on. Small towns pop up every hour or so, but its really just you and the countryside…perfection. One small town I want to mention is Bristol. Its tiny but what makes it noteworthy is that it is part of what was the Yellowstone Trail. This was a route from the Atlantic Ocean to Montana, marked with yellow painted stones that allowed the wagon trains and settlers to find their way. You can hike most of this trail today.
Within the next few hours we reach Ortonville….Minnesota….what? Yes my friends, we have left South Dakota.
Our adventures are not over yet….not by a longshot. But I will save that for the next blog post……can you even stand the wait?
Ah…..how wonderful to wake up in a comfy bed, with the sun shining and mountain views out of the window. Time to head out and find some breakfast and coffee. There are many cafes and restaurants to choose from and lovely patios to sit on to enjoy your meal and watch Deadwood wake up. I chose the Midnight Star Saloon and its’ Diamond Lils’ restaurant for breakfast. This saloon is owned by Kevin Costner and many articles of his from the movies he has made hang on its walls. As of the date of writing this, I don’t believe that Kevin Costner owns it any longer.
I spent the morning walking around, enjoying the sights and doing a little shopping. I had a look around Bullocks’ Hotel which was opened by Sheriff Seth Bullock in 1895. Seth first came to Deadwood in 1876 and was the first Sheriff. Its said he never needed to use his gun….he didn’t need to since his stare was enough to scare a man out of doing bad deeds. Seth originally came to open a hardware store, but he arrived on the day that Wild Bill Hickok was murdered, and the townsfolk needed someone to be sheriff, so they picked Seth. In 1887 Seth met two guys out on in the hills that he thought were horse thieves. One of those men was named Theodore Roosevelt…and yes he did go on to become President of the USA and Seth attended the inauguration. Seems that Teddy and Seth became great friends for their entire lives. In fact, Seth had a tower built called the Friendship Tower or Mount Roosevelt that was to comemorate and honor their friendship when Teddy died. The tower is 31 feet high, and you can climb it to get amazing views of the Black Hills. The tower was completed and dedicated on July 4th, 1919, several months before Seth died. Seth’s grave faces this tower. In 1895 Seth built the Bullock Hotel which is still in existence today, although it has been rebuilt after a devastating fire that burned down most of the town. It is said that Seth haunts this hotel, but is a friendly spirit. He still has a strong work ethic as he tends to haunt the staff when they are working too slow or are taking a break. That is a very different type of management style isn’t it?
There are several haunted hotels in Deadwood, including the Fairmont which was built in 1895 and was a brothel and the Franklin, built in 1903 where Teddy Roosevelt, John Wayne and Babe Roth have all stayed. Both of these sites have ghosts that show themselves and will watch over patrons and staff and often will appear as orbs to folks standing outside. Seems like no one wants to leave this town.
Another stop was a quick peak into Saloon number 10….the site where Wild Bill Hickok was assassinated. It is a night time hot spot for dancing and drinking, but in the day time people come to see all things Hickok. Wild Bill was a gambler and he died while playing cards on August 2, 1876. He was shot in the back by the cowardly wanderer Jack McCall, purportedly because Hickok had made fun of him on the previous day. Hickok died with what is now called the deadmans’ hand: 2 black aces, 2 black 8’s and the 9 of diamonds. You can see the chair that he sat in when he was shot as well as his deadmans hand. And in the summer, they re-enact the shooting….it is highly entertaining to watch.
After a little shopping and a light lunch, we decide to hit the road and head through the Black Hills to the Crazy Horse Memorial. The day is sunny and the road calls us….don’t worry Deadwood….we will be back in a few hours.
The drive is gorgeous…winding roads, spectacular scenery…we are feeling alive. We reach the site of the monument and I have to say….I have never seen anything like this in my life.
I think to do justice to this site it is best to share a little history as to who Crazy Horse was. Crazy Horse was a Lakota war leader of the Ogalala Band. He fought against the encroachment of white settlers on Native American lands and to preserve the traditional way of life. He fought many battles including the Black Hills wars, Fetterman Fight in 1866 in which he acted as a lone decoy and saved hundreds of lives and the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876 where he led his war party to victory and defeated Custer. Crazy Horse was born between 1840 and 1845…no one is sure…and his Dad was named Crazy Horse and his Mom, Rattling Blanket Woman…she died when he was just 4 years old. Sad isn’t it? He lived in a Lakota camp in what is now Wyoming and as he matured he became a great visionary. His first vision came to him as a warrior on a white horse, who seemed to float above the water and was struck by lightening and hailstones and was never harmed. The warrior spoke to Crazy Horse and told him to dress modestly and never to take the scalps of the enemy and if he did as instructed, he would lead his people and no harm would come to him in battle. Crazy Horse never wore war bonnets or chest pieces, choosing to wear only a white feather in his hair, and a lightening sign on his cheek and white dots over his body to represent the hailstones from his vision. He was never harmed in battle, but one time took and arrow to his arm immediately after he had scalped two of his enemies….he had forgotten for a moment what his vision had told him to not do. Crazy Horse was known to be very shy and modest and was very generous especially to elders, children and the poor. On May 5, 1877, Crazy Horse was forced to surrender to General Crook and was taken to Fort Robinson, near Nebraska. It was here that the great warrior was fatally wounded by the bayonet of a soldier. He died that day, in September 1877. The burial site of Crazy Horse is a secret, known only by his family members. What an amazing and brave man he was.
The Crazy Horse Memorial is on private land on Thunderhead Mountain in Custer County. It is 17 miles from Mount Rushmore. Henry Standing Bear exchanged his ownership of 900 acres of land for this barren mountain and it is he who commissioned the memorial to be made, wanting to show the world that the Native Americans had their own heros, not those whose faces are carved into Mount Rushmore. He commissioned the sculptor, Korczak Ziolkowski, to carve the monument…641 feet long, 563 feet high with the arm of Crazy Horse to be 263 feet long and his head 87 feet high….to say it is massive is an understatement. As a note, Mount Rushmore is only 60 feet high. The project which is non-profit started in 1948. Mr. Ziolkowski died in 1982 but his wife kept the project going by creating a visitors center whose admission fees help with the funding of the project. She focused on the head component as she felt this would be the biggest attraction for people to see. By 1998 the head and face were completed…the eyes are 17 feet wide. Mrs. Ziolkowski died and her daughter became the head sculptor and is assisted by numerous workers including 3 of her siblings and 3 grandsons. It should be noted that not all of the Native Americans like the idea of the creation of this memorial, as they feel Crazy Horse would not like to see the mountain carved out of its natural state, and that he would not approve of monies being made on his likeness. I have to say that it is one of the most impressive statutes I have ever seen, and I am hopeful that when complete it serves to honor this great Lakota Ogalala warrior.
We had a great visit at the memorial and then the dark clouds starting rolling in….and they came fast. As we headed for the bike the rain started, and by the time we were exiting the memorial site, it started pouring. And I mean torrential downpour.
Now if you have read previous blogs, we have driven in rain, lotus, bees and beside tornados. But I have to tell you….I have never been in a rain storm with winds and thunder and lightening like this one. I hunkered down with my face behind my partners back, praying that we would be safe and not slide on the slick roads and roll off over the side of the hills. He had riding glasses on to keep the rain out of his eyes, but they kept fogging up and truthfully, I find out later, he couldn’t see much of the road most of the time. We rode as we watched the water run down the hill past as as though it was a river, white caps and all. I am not kidding…it had to be at least a foot deep. Eventually we came to a little cottage/camping site and very slowly my partner maneuvered the bike off the river highway, onto gravel and onto the lawn of this cottage. We jumped off the bike and ran inside, seeking some shelter for at least until the storm passed. The guy working there was not hospitable at all. The most he would do would let us stand inside for a bit….didn’t offer a towel to dry us off as we were beyond soaking wet…didn’t offer a coffee to warm us up….nothing. As I looked out the window, I saw he had a white horse, tied to a tree on a very short rope, standing in mud in the driving rain…my heart broke for him. I wish I could have found him a better home.
We stayed for probably 15 minutes and although the rain hadn’t stopped we needed to head out because we were getting chilled right to the bone. We hopped on the bike and rode through the storm and running water all the way to Deadwood. The town of Deadwood itself was severely flooded in several places…it actually flooded the Iron Horse Inn and caused quite a bit of damage. I advise you to go to Youtube and look up flash floods in deadwood 2010 where you will see footage of what the roads look like in merely minutes. This will give you and idea of what we drove in on a highway in the Black Hills with hair pin turns all the way.
We parked the bike and headed to our rooms. I immediately ran a bath…deep and hot…and poured myself a big glass of Southern Comfort. After about 30 minutes, warm, dry and in fresh clothes, my partner and I decide to head out for dinner and to check out the band at Saloon Number 10.
We had a great night at the Saloon…we met a couple who had a horse ranch in Texas, a biker who was visiting from Germany and many local folks including a lady named Starr. She was a very unique lady and immediately took a shine to me. She invited us to go out with her the next night to a bar that her son was a bartender at. We said sure. It had been a fun, interesting and very stressful day and so we went to bed and looked forward to enjoying our last day in Deadwood.
The next day I awake to the sun shining and there is not a cloud in the sky….a good sign so far.
We need to do laundry. I guess I didn’t mention that on a bike trip you don’t have alot of room to pack so the clothing allowance is minimal and you go through your assortment pretty fast. So all along the way we have been doing laundry every 3rd or 4th day. On this day its a must because we are down to our last clean belongings….so….we ask around and find out where a laundromat is located. We take a trolley (so cool that they have these running through the town) and head to the laundromat. We load up the machines and sip a coffee and stare at the beautiful hills.
As you can see from the picture, gambling abounds in Deadwood….so we could have put some coins in the slots but chose to only put our money in the washer and dryer for the win.
Once the laundry was done, we took the trolley back to the rooms, put the laundry away and headed back out onto the streets to seek lunch and adventure.
We had lunch on a great little outdoor patio, with live entertainment. It was alot of fun. Then, a gun fight started. Out on the streets, from the left and the right came the gun slingers. Words were exchanged, pistols drawn and bang..bang… one of the guys falls to the ground. The others head to the saloon of course….and then….the crowds applaud. These staged gunfights take place everyday during the summer and are quite amusing to watch. Makes you think of days gone by that this was a regular occurance in this town. Wow.
We had heard of a really great place to visit just a couple of miles out of town. It is called the Buffalo Monument. So we grabbed the bike and went for a quick ride. I am so glad that we did.
Tatonka is the Lakota word for buffalo. This site is a tribute to the buffalo hunt and the traditional ways of the Lakota people.
The site has a visitor center filled with artifacts and pieces of Lakota history. Our guide, a Lakota Elder, was so wonderful in explaining all of the displays to us and the history of her people. She told us of her culture and traditional ways of living, which included the buffalo hunt. The animals were herded from behind by several warriors on horseback who drove them towards a cliff, where they would fall to their deaths. It sounds horrible, and was, but the Lakota honored these animals (and still do), and utilized every part of the buffalo for food, fuel, clothing and materials. You are not prepared for the monument itself. It is spectacular and larger than life in size.
It is the 3rd largest bronze statue in the world. In 1990, actor Kevin Costner, after having filmed Dances with Wolves in the area, commissioned Peggy Detmers to sculp the Lakota Bison Jump. There are 3 larger than life Indians on horseback and 14 buffalo. It took her 7 years to complete. Kevin Costner planned to build a $100 million casino on this property, calling it Dunbar ( his characters name in Dances with Wolves) with the statues on the casino property as an attraction for throngs of patrons. So… Peggy worked at a discounted rate thinking that the casino would bring in many people who would then commission work from her. The Lakota peoples fought Mr. Costner on the opening of his casino, and he lost, so instead he made the area a tourist attraction with the sculptures in place and a traditional Lakota encampment and visitors center. As a note, Peggy sued Kevin to get her sculpture back but she lost, and eventually had to give up being a sculptor to work as a multivitamin sales rep. I am, truth be told, saddened to hear that she lost out on earnings for her spectacular work….maybe the spirits do not want us to prosper from their history. Just a thought.
Well it was time to head back to the room, get changed for dinner and then meet Starr for a drink. Not sure where we ate dinner, but we did meet Starr at Saloon #10. While my partner was getting a drink Starr took my hand and told me she wanted to show me something that not everyone knows about or gets to see…..I am excited. She leads me through a door and then down some stairs and then….we are in a tunnel.. It has dirt floors and the walls are 23 inches thick. They are made up of 3 layers of history…each time there was a major fire or flood the tunnels were rebuilt….layer upon layer. The tunnel goes for quite some distance…we are actually under the main street sidewalk of Deadwood. The tunnels were used for men to sneak into a building and walk the tunnel over to the next building where they could discretely climb the stairs to the brothels on the 2nd floor without being seen. This tunnel took us back to the bar we started from, but through another entrance. It was something to see. Starr was so comprehensive in telling me the history and was quite happy to be able to share an experience with me that not many people are able to get. I was thankful.
After a few drinks and an exchange of emails, we left the bar and headed to the hotel.
Tomorrow we leave this town. I have had so many memorable experiences over these past 3 days. My life has changed now because of this town. I appreciate things I never thought of before and it has stirred in me an everlasting thirst for travel and immersing myself in the culture and history of the places that I visit.
Deadwood, you remain forever in my heart. Especially the Black Hills….one day I will return.
I have to say that you are going to want to stay tuned to my blog for a very ghostly experience I had while writing this blog today. I shared it with my daughter right away because it actually scared me a little. Stay tuned for the story soon….and ps…Pilamaya ye (thank you) Crazy Horse for the sign of approval.
Next, a few more stops in Deadwood and then we head East….homeward bound…but there are many more tales on this adventure to share…don’t you want to hear them?
I am soooo excited. We are so close to the border of South Dakota and I cannot wait. I didn’t know much about the state at that time, but I knew there were buffalo, and badlands and magnificent forests so that was more than enough for me.
South Dakota is one of my favorite places that I have visited. I wanted to move there immediately. But first… lets get there.
We finish up the drive through Nebraska, going through many small villages with populations of any where from 100 to 200 people. Crookston, Kilgore, Cody and Merriman to name a few. Each of these villages are named after railroad officials as the railroad wound its way through Nebraska to the North and these little settlements were created.
After about an hour, we cross the state line into…Martin, South Dakota.
South Dakota is the 39th or 40th State in the USA…..think I am unsure?….nope. President Huffington signed the papers for both North Dakota and South Dakota, declaring them states in 1889 on the same day, at the same time. But first he shuffled the papers, so no one knows which one he actually signed first….not even him. Way to keep things exciting Mr. President. In 1743, the area now known as South Dakota was claimed by France. In 1803 the United States purchased the area back….from Napoleon Bonaparte. Wow..
South Dakota is home to the absolutely lush and gorgeous Black Hills. It also has grassy plains, The Badlands, buttes and the James River, a tributary of the Missouri river and it runs for 710 miles between North and South Dakota.
Some people you may know came from South Dakota: Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of Little House on the Prairie…Catherine Bach, Daisy on the Dukes of Hazard…Cheryl Ladd, of Charlies Angels…Bob Barker, who lived on the Rosebud Reserve, and news anchor Tom Brokaw.
Some historical folk that made Deadwood, South Dakota their home were Seth Bullock, Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane. More on them later when we get to Deadwood.
We travel through the South West part of this state, heading towards the Black Hills. We go through Martin, Balesland and Ogalala all small towns and all located within the parameters of the Pine Ridge Reservation.
The Pine Ridge Reservation is the land of the Ogalala Lakota peoples. It is 2.1 million acres (8500 square kilometers) and contains the Badlands throughout the reservation. The actual population is approximately 26,000 with 46,000 registered Band Members. There is a lot of history associated with this area: the Battle of Wounded Knee and Stronghold Table-site of the last Ghost Dance in honor of Crazy Horse days before his death to name a few. This is the 8th largest reservation in the USA and the poorest: many people have no electricity, running water or sewage and those who have wood stoves have little resources to burn given the lack of forests on the land. In spite of this, the Ogalala Lakota have built a college and an elder care facility and do operate ecotourism and cultural tourism businesses as well as a casino.
As we are passing through the Reservation, I am struck by the spirit of the place. It is haunting….you can almost see the warriors heading home from a successful buffalo hunt and the dancing around the fires…it is beyond description.
We do pass children on horseback….small children on beautiful horses…riding bareback and loosely holding the horses mane. As a horsewoman, I am amazed at the bond you can feel between horse and rider….its palpable. We did also see many signs that let us know that this was the territory of the Ogalala Lakota, and that there was no trespassing or hunting in the area. Although we didn’t stop at any of the tourist attractions, I have heard that the guides are so friendly and wanting to share their stories and history. On another visit I will definitely stop to see some of these sites.
I also see my first buffalo….ever…on the Reservation….oh my….I didn’t know how big they were…..they are huge. The herd of 300 on the Reservation is actually owned by the Federal Government, but is managed by the Ogalala Lakota. There are no fences here….so lets just say the buffalo are able at any time to get up close and personal. Thankfully they stayed at a respectful distance as we slowly went passed. The buffalo is revered by the Ogalala Lakota, and I can certainly see why.
We continue heading west towards the Black Hills. I have never seen such a sight. The Black Hills, sacred to many of the Indian tribes, are not that tall, with the tallest peak being Black Elk Peak rising to only 7200 ft…high enough right? The hills have many, many deep valleys, covered in pine trees and from a distance the area looks black or dark, even in the sunlight, thus the name Black Hills.
Driving in the Black Hills is a bikers dream. Winding roads are endless and you swerve constantly from left to right, under the massive pines of the forests and sometimes through the coolest tunnels cut into the rock. It is advisable that you follow the speed limit. There are many hairpin turns and unfortunately, closer to Deadwood and Sturgis, you see many crosses on the side of the road where someone has died taking that corner too fast. It is not a route for the faint of heart, but is certainly the route of the adventurer.
The first place we get to is Hot Springs. This is an old resort town with numerous hot springs with water temperatures at 31 degrees….seems perfect for the aching body of a biker. This is also the site of Mammoth Site of Hot Springs, home to the worlds largest archeological find of mammoth fossils. We didn’t stop in but I am sure it is worth the stop another time.
The next town is Custer, named of course, after General George Custer. This is the oldest town in the Black Hills inhabited by Europeans. In 1874, while on an expedition, General Custer discovered gold in the Black Hills, and as you can imagine, once word got out, a gold rush began. This caused numerous issues with the Indians who found the hills sacred and considered them not to be harmed or lived on. Close to Custer is Mount Rushmore, and the Crazy Horse Memorial. I will tell you more about the memorial soon.
Next is Hill City. Known as the Heart of the Hills due to its location right in the center of the hills, it is a tiny town but is the home of the arts of the Black Hills. Numerous events including festivals and art shows as well as art galleries are in this lovely little town. Here is an interesting piece of relatively recent history of Hill City. An archeologist named Sue Hendrickson was working for the Black Hills Institute and in August of 1990 she made a discovery near the edge of Hill City…the worlds most complete fossilized body of a t-rex. It was promptly named Sue…perfect. The discovery quickly led to a court battle over who owned Sue…the land owner (Maurice Williams), the Indian tribes, the Federal Government or the Black Hills Institute. In 1992, mid way through the court case, the FBI seized Sue and it took them 3 days to move her to a mining and technology institute. Years later, a verdict was finally reached in this case and Sue was sold by Sothebys Auction House. The President of the Black Hills Institute was sentenced to 2 years in Federal Prison for having Sue hidden away. Who purchased Sue you wonder? Well the land owner, Mr. Maurice Williams did and he promptly sold her to a museum in Chicago….for 8.6 million dollars. Why couldn’t they just let poor Sue rest!
We are now heading into Deadwood…..Yippee! We look for an affordable place to stay as we had decided to stay here and explore the area for 3 days. We couldn’t find anything reasonable so we booked the cheapest thing we could find which was a resort outside of town about 30 minutes. This wasn’t ideal because it meant early nights for us since we didn’t ride in the dark if we didn’t have to. We were standing on the sidewalk, none to happy with our choice when along came a good sized group of fellow bikers. They were in town for a conference. They stopped and chatted for a bit and we ended up talking to the guy that was running the conference. When he heard where we were staying he said….”Cancel your reservation and follow me”. So of course we of blind faith did just that. And we followed him into the Hickock Hotel.
He told us that a couple of bikers had cancelled last minute but their rooms were still being held for the convention…..at the convention rate. Significantly cheaper than the regular rate for a great hotel. So we walked up to the check in desk, said we were with the convention, he vouched for us and presto…..we were in. We thanked him and we all got busy settling in to our rooms. I don’t recall ever seeing that group again.
Let me describe this hotel. Its older but it, like most all of Deadwood, is decorated in period pieces. My room had a massive fireplace, a claw foot bathtub and get this….two tvs…one I faced if I was laying on my back in bed and the other if I was laying on my left side on the bed….not exactly period pieces but convenient….although I didn’t ever turn them on.
The hotel had the old school elevators with the protruding buttons for service and the iron grating that you pulled down before the door closed…I took the stairs often.
Downstairs was a casino and bar and a restaurant, although I didn’t ever eat there. This was such an amazing place to stay and I felt like the queen of this little town. I loved it.
Deadwood itself is a real mix…wild west… meets carnival …meets scenic vistas… meets history. To understand it is to visit it. It suited me just fine in every way.
Deadwood is in the Deadwood Gulch, a deep gulley between the hills. It was a gold rush town that went from a population of 5000 in 1874 to 25,000 in 1876. It was a wild place. Miners, criminals and quick money makers all hit this place up. Along with that came the Madams and their illegal prostitution houses. And the saloons to provide whiskey and take your money with their card games and gambling. And of course, with all of this came lawlessness….numerous murders and beatings and theft and a lot of unfair justice you might say. It was a wild place that attracted many famous names: Calamity Jane-frontierswoman/dancer/prostitute/medic… Seth Bullock-entrepreneur/sheriff… Wyatt Earp-investor and Wild Bill Hickok-gambler/gunslinger.
I will share more of the story of Deadwood as you journey with me over the next two days. But on this night, its a quick bit to eat, a walk down main street and early to bed. Tomorrow is another day…and have I got a treat for you…a visit to a work of art commissioned by…Kevin Costner…after he filmed Dances With Wolves in this area.
My head is swimming because there is so much to see and learn here…3 days…forget that…I want to move here.
Heading out today I am excited. We have decided to head towards South Dakota….a place I have always wanted to see. I have loved so many of the places that I have been to on this journey, but you will see that South Dakota becomes my absolute favorite. But first, we need to make our way through Kansas and then through Nebraska. I keep looking at the map and see that Colorado is soooo close…but we can’t see everything and we are running out of vacation time…darn it!
Most of the places that we are travelling through are small towns…I mean really small, with populations of anywhere from 700 to 2000. And its farmland everywhere…and its gorgeous.
We leave Oakley, Kansas and it is sunny and warm. We head North and according to our GPS (which by the way, they are not always correct with their directions), we are 2 hours from entering Nebraska….sweet. We drive through a tiny town named Oberlin and within the next hour, we are in Nebraska.
Nebraska is such a beautiful state. Rolling hills and farmland as far as the eye can see. And my first look at buttes, flat topped isolated hills with very steep sides. Such a wonderful place to travel by motorcycle and take in the sights, and smells and just to feel the wind on your face and feel free.
Nebraska is home to a lot of the history of the settling of the West and there are numerous monuments and places of interest to stop at. In 1877, Crazy Horse along with 1000 of his followers surrendered at Camp Rolson. You will find out more about Crazy Horse in my next blog on South Dakota. Another interesting thing about Nebraska is… in 1927, Edward Perkins created “Kool Aid” in Hastings, Nebraska and now it is the official soft drink of the State. Kool…lol.
Some notable folks from Nebraska include: Hilary Swank from Lincoln, Nick Nolte from Omaha, Henry Fonda from Grande Island, Fred Astaire from Omaha, Marlon Brando and James Coburn. A Mr. Leslie Lynch King Sr. is from Nebraska….who is he you ask? He is the biological Father of President Gerald Ford. Ford’s Mother left Mr. King sixteen days after Gerald was born, due his abusive behavior and alcoholism.
The first town that we come into is McCook. Now you need to imagine that towns in this area are few and far between and are basically depots for the farmers to come for supplies, food and feed for livestock. We likely saw more cattle and horses than we did people or stores on this leg of the journey. The one notable thing about McCook is that it has a house that was built in 1907 for Harvey Sutton…and it was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Mr. Wright is a famous architect who created a unique style of build that allowed the house to be one with its environment in design. Pretty unique for a little town in the middle of corn fields.
We continue down the back country highway, enjoying the sights and eventually stop for a bite to eat…..where…no idea…I am not interested in the food when I am hungry for adventure. Nice pun, right?
We eventually end up in North Platte. This is where the Worlds’ largest railyard is located….the Bailey Yard. In 1867 it was the end point of the Union Pacific Railroad until the railway was extended in later years. There is also a really cool Pony Express Station marker here. It is on the road into town and shows one of the stations that was used on the Pony Express route for mail drop off and pick up. Here is a little history on the pony express: It was in operation from April 1860 to October 1861. The Pony Express allowed for communication via mail between the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of the USA and it delivered within 10 days. The cost was $5.00 per ounce. There were 120 riders, 184 stations, 400 horses and 360 additional personnel such as stable managers and station masters. A rider must weigh no more than 125 pounds and they made $100 per month…considering a tradesman at the time made $0.43 per day, this was a great wage. Riders were hired, given a bible and made to swear an oath that stated they would not drink, fight or swear. Stations were placed 10 miles apart and the riders changed horses at each station to continue on their journey, riding day and night, regardless of weather and whatever dangers they encountered. They did carry a pistol, but could only use it to defend themselves if necessary or in some sad cases, they used it to end their life rather than be captured or hurt. One famous rider was…Buffalo Bill Cody who had one of the longest and fastest rides in the history of the Pony Express. How amazing it is to stand at this marker and reflect on the history and try to imagine yourself back in that time….love this.
The North Platte river winds through this area. A tributary of the Platte River, the North Platte river is 716 miles long and winds through Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska. There are many trails along the river that were used by the settlers and the wagon trains on their journey West. It provided water for the cattle and settlers and also the land around that banks had the most grasslands for cattle grazing. Many of these trails can be walked on today, and many are of course, overgrown.
I sound like a broken record but here I go again with a Buffalo Bill Cody story. When Bill left the Pony Express he went into many different business ventures, the most famous being his travelling Wild West show. In 1878 he purchased some land in Nebraska, 160 acres for $750.00, right outside of North Platte. He eventually purchased 4000 of the adjacent acres. On this land he had cattle, horses and crops and he built a 18 room mansion for himself and his family….total cost..$3900.00. He had a wine cellar, corn house and imported furniture from all over the USA. He designed a 12 mile irrigation system that could easily water 6000 acres of crops and this has formed the basis of irrigation systems in Nebraska to this day. He had 80 horses and hired 60 cowboys to manage all of the cattle. He brought in trees from the Eastern states that could thrive in his climate and created a forest, which deer and buffalo began to inhabit. Bill and his wife held many parties at the mansion, with guests including Annie Oakley, Teddy Roosevelt, Harry Houdini, and Sitting Bull. When he was away from this ranch working, his brother in law and sister ran the place along with Bills’ wife. He named it Scouts Rest Ranch and he finally sold it in 1911, for $100,000.00 You can go visit this Ranch and see many of the original buildings as well as the mansion. Just for a moment as you are reading these numbers above, think of what the average wage is at the time, and how much money Bill needed to buy land, build houses and structures, purchase cattle and horses, plant crops, pay cowboys and still take care of his family…this whole story impresses me….Bill is an entrepreneur and I love this story.
We continue on our way, enjoying the scenery….when….out of nowhere…flew…a pheasant. Now that doesn’t sound like much of story, but it sure is. We are travelling along, talking and all of a sudden, out of the brush from the left side of the road, comes this pheasant, in full flight. He could have went behind us, over us, waaaaay in front of us….nope….he kept on his chosen course and went right between my partner and the windshield of the bike. My partner could have reached up and grabbed him. It happened so fast. We pulled over, a little shaken and both wanting to confirm with the other that that had actually just happened. Yes…yes it did. We realized how dangerous that could have been but since it was over, we were unharmed, and the pheasant was on his merry way, we hopped back on the bike and away we went. Never a dull moment on this trip…thats for sure.
We decide to head towards Valentine, Nebraska and stay there for the night. It is right at the border to South Dakota so that will make for an easy day tomorrow. We ride through the Sand Hill area of Nebraska. Its a real transition area from seeing only farmlands to the beginning of more buttes and sand dunes. Some of these dunes are over 350 feet high and they are spectacular to see.
One cute little town we passed through was Thedford. Its actually a village with only 160 residents. The whole town consists of 2 corner stores, 1 bank, 1 hotel, 1 restaurant, 1 law office, a lumber yard and a grocery store. Sure makes it easy to decide where to go for a night out on the town.
We are now only an hour away from our stop for the night, and are just loving the day that we have had. And then…..it happens….You folks know by now that our days are laced with history, adventure and always a mishap. We are on a stretch of highway that is really straight, not a corner to be seen. And then..ping…a bee hits the helmet of my partner. And then another…and soon he ducks to avoid one and it hits me. They keep coming and coming and hitting our jackets, and helmets and boots….on and on they keep coming. I look up from having hidden my face in my partners back and see the large swarm of them surrounding us….I lower my head again. And then just as quickly….they were gone. We pull over…again…and check to see if we are ok….we are good….no stings, thankfully. We then realized what had happened. We had driven into bees returning to their man made hives. I guess they go hunting for nectar all day and then return to their hives in the evening, right at the time we were on the road that is their flight path to return home. Locus…bees…pheasants….I am understanding how exposed and vulnerable to the elements one really is on a bike….but I still love it.
At this point….which seems to be how I feel every day now….I just want a room and a beer and to relax and not worry about any more flying obstacles.
We continue on to the town of Valentine and get a room on the outside of town at the Raine Motel. It was cute, clean and had a restaurant and bar attached. Perfect.
Let me tell you a little bit about the town of Valentine. Its main street has two different time zones on either side, mountain and central. Every year in February, as you might have guessed, the post office is inundated with letters (over 6000), which have requests that they be re-mailed from Valentine to the recipient with the Valentine postmark. This way the recipient gets a letter from Valentine….on Valentines Day. How sweet is this! This tradition by the way is ongoing as I write this, so if you are looking to plan something special for Valentines Day just google Valentines post office and they give you all the details.
In 2007, National Geographic declared Valentine as one of the top 10 best adventure towns in the USA. This is due to many factors one of which is the Snake River Falls, the largest in Nebraska.
Valentine is also notable for having been the birthplace of Clayton Daubs, a rodeo champion, who the Wyoming State symbol of a rodeo cowboy is modeled after. What an amazing little town.
With food and drink in our bellies, we settle down for the evening. I know I hardly slept because I was so excited for the next days journey….to South Dakota. I have no idea what is in store for us or really what our final destination will be….but I do know….I want to see buffalo, wild horses and Deadwood. Will my dreams come true?
Waking up the next day, I was in pain…stiff and sore. I had a lot of bruising on my right knee, but really all things considered I wasn’t that bad. My partner had some hip issues and that led to some issues mounting and dismounting the bike, but he wasn’t doing too badly outside of that.
We packed up the bike and headed out on the road in search of breakfast. While at breakfast we made the plan to head towards South Dakota. We could have went anywhere at this point, but South Dakota seemed like a good plan before we would have to start thinking about heading back to Canada.
So with a target in mind, we starting taking the back roads heading North/West.
Kansas is beautiful. Wide open spaces of fields, farms and lots and lots of corn fields. But it is known as an agricultural state after all. Kansas, like its neighbor Oklahoma is in Tornado Alley and has severe weather. There are at least 50 tornados per year. This is also where the trailhead for the Chisolm Trail is located, in Aberline.
The band Kansas is named for this state since most of its band members are from Topeka. Other notable folks are: Joe Walsh of the Eagles from Wichita, Melissa Etheridge from Levenworth and Martina McBride from Sharon. Must be something in that corn that creates musicians!
We head on the back roads towards Medicine Lodge. This is a small town that was named after an arbor made of trees and branches that was used by the Kiowa Nation in their sun dance ceremony. One really cool thing to see is the Wisner Fountain, built by masons in 1917. It was used by both horse and humans to quench their thirst. It stands today with minimal restoration, a real tribute to days gone by. There is also a stockade which is now a museum. I didn’t stop in but wish I had. It apparently shows how families lived within its walls from May to September to avoid be attacked on their homesteads. Many men were sent from the stockade as scouts, to cover the miles of territory, looking for potential raiding parties. There are four markers in separate parts of the town to show the approximate size and location of the stockade.
We drove through the small towns of Pratt, Great Bend and Hays. Although I didn’t know it at the time, Hays is a pretty interesting place. It was the home of General Custer and his wife for a while. But also, in 1869, Wild Bill Hickok was the sheriff. Wow…I can only imagine the gunfights that ensued during his time. The bodies from those that ended up on the wrong end of a gun are at the Boot Hill Cemetery just on the edge of town. Other notable residents were Calamity Jane and Buffalo Bill Cody. I will get into the stories of some of these folks in a future blog. Damn, I love these stories.
Now it wouldn’t be a day of travelling for me without a mishap or as I like to think of it, an adventure.
I am now deathly afraid of gravel on the road. Since the bike mishap, every rock or pebble I see on the road makes me tense up and be afraid we will drop the bike again. I was working on getting over this, hour by hour and then…we hit a huge stretch of construction. This was not a one side of the road only piece of work….this was tear up the entire road and repair it and …gravel was everywhere….thick gravel that made it even hard to keep the bike up while we were slowly walking it and inching forward. I did what anyone in my situation would do…I got off the bike. There was no way in hell I was riding on this gravel while my partner was having enough trouble keeping the bike upright on his own. I confidently said” I am walking”…and away I went. Problem was, I hadn’t factored in the heat, the road conditions, the construction equipment and the distance….oh and the incline of the hill I had to walk.
I dodged bulldozers and dump trucks…I sweated out any Jack Daniels that had taken up residence in my pores…I walked the nasty gravel in boots that were more fashionable than practical and all the while I remained steadfast in my conviction that I would not ride the bike through this. Even as my partner eventually rode by on the bike. Far off in the distance, at the top of the hill, I watched him dismount with a sense of pride that he had made it and a sense of regret with my decision to walk…but that is just between you and me…ok?
I was pondering life as I knew it, when all of a sudden….down the hill at top speed came a ….golf cart…barreling (can a golf cart actually barrel?) towards me…as if on a mission to put me out of my misery. When it reached me, it spun around and the sweetest young man said ” howdy, maam…I was sent by that guy up the hill on the bike to come git ya”. I was shocked, but more importantly relieved since my conviction had left my body and dismay had set in. He gave me a quick ride up the hill…I got on the bike with my partner and we were off…me 5 lbs lighter from the self indused cardio and with my dignity relatively still intact.
We eventually find a spot to rest for the night and look forward to pushing on through Kansas the next day.
Onward we go…but today we get to witness…a tornado. In my hometown, we have only had two tornados in all of my …well, all of my years. (A lady never reveals her age, lol). One was when I was 4 and I remember heading to the basement with my parents and puppy, and seeing the aftermath of downed trees, torn off roofs and a window in my bedroom blown out. The second one was a couple of years ago, and it went right past my street but caused a lot of damage on the surrounding streets. Neither of these experiences gave me any cause to have an escape plan prepared in the event of a tornado. Let me just say…that changes quickly when you are riding beside one…on a motorcycle.
We are riding in sunshine and look to our left….and black skies are rolling in…really dark. And its moving fast. I do seem to recall a farmer in his field, with this impending catastrophe quickly approaching, calmly mowing his lawn. It was a little surreal. And then we saw it…the funnel. Likely not huge by Kansas standards, but to this Canadian girl, it was massive. And in the blink of an eye it was beside us. Now the strangest part of this is it stayed on our left…dark and foreboding and on our right…pure sunshine. At this point we start talking about what we should do….one: take all turns right and out smart it (yeah right), two: ditch the bike in the fields and try to find a place to lay low (and probably something to hand onto), or three: do we just drive carefree on our pre-planned route. We of course, chose to push on through and thankfully this weather induced monster stayed on the left and then eventually turned and left us to travel on our way. I do remember one particular comment in our discussions on strategy…”If you see a cow go flying by…let me know…and we will dump the bike and hide”…I won’t reveal which one of us cleaver minds said that, but I will say I know that only pigs can fly.
I am feeling like this post should be called “tales of the weather of Kansas”. Why you ask? Keep reading…you will see.
We are hungry and pull into the small town of Wa Keeney for some lunch. Wa Keeney is a tiny little town of 1800 people, and it is really a little depot for the farmers to get their food and supplies. Of note, it is the birthplace of Orrin Upshaw, an Olympic tug of war athlete in the 1920’s…who knew tug of war was an Olympic event…hmmm! Bellies full, we head out again. And shortly, it happens…a torrential downpour. If you read my post on Arkansas, you know where the rain gear went…and that it wasn’t with us.
This rain came down hard and fast and we had no idea it was coming. We drove until we found a gas station with a huge roof overhanging the pumps. We dashed underneath, parked the bike out of the rain and decide to buy a coffee to warm up. This is where I met a real cowboy….by the very definition of cowboy.
Up pulls this pick up truck, replete with a bail of hay in the back. And out steps this tall, lanky and good looking cowboy. He has a cowboy hat, boots with spurs, lariat on his side and a piece of hay in his mouth, hanging out one side as he chews on it. My partner, who now has quite the limp due to the bike accident, is sauntering over towards the store in the gas station to get us a coffee. The cowboy, rushes over to help him with the door and says..” well partner….sure looks like ya’ll got a hitch in your giddyup”. Now…that had us laughing to the point of tears. I feel this cowboy had waited a lifetime to use that line, and it was perfect. This guy chatted with us and at one point took a phone call to ask someone to go check on an elderly lady he knew because she was ill. What a sweet soul he was. I will admit I had visions of hoping into his truck and herding the wild horses with him….but that is a different kind of story. 🙂
When the rain finally stopped, we head out again. And….we run into another issue. Now my partner really likes to push things to the limit…problem was…we were pushing the fuel level in the bike to the limit. Yes I know… we had hunkered down in a gas station a short while ago but having gotten caught up in the conversation with the cowboy, my partner forgot to get gas for the bike. Soooo….we are now in farm country, only farmhouses, barns, fields and livestock in sight, and up and down hills with no little town to be seen for miles. I am planning on how I will ask a farmer for some gas, or if we can sleep under the stars in their field…damn it, I just remembered the rattlesnakes and tarantulas….scrap that plan. We ride for miles on what appear to be fumes….and then…locus.
If you don’t know what locus are, picture large grasshoppers flying…in massive swarms of 100s at a time. We drove right into the middle of a swarm of locus that was heading towards us. We got smacked, thwacked and slimed….over and over again. It made the riding tough because they make the road slimy when they are hit. The good news is, it momentarily took our minds off of the lack of fuel.
They say you should always be positive and believe that good will come your way. I agree….because it did. We reach the top of a large hill and as we are literally coasting down, there on the left hand side….in the middle of nowhere….was a gas station. And thankfully, by then, the locus beating was over too.
We pull in, park the bike and the owner comes out and is just starring at us. We smile and are being friendly and then he hands us some rags. Odd…nope…when we took our glasses and lids off we saw why…both of us and the bike were covered in green slime and locus bodies….and I mean covered. We used those rags with much gratitude, filled the gas tank and hit the road.
At this point, I want a room, a drink and no more bike for the day. And so we find the little town of Oakley and stay the night. The motel was clean and well named….The Free Breakfast Inn….and it had free breakfast. Well played.
Finally it was time to unwind after a very adventurous day. I figure if I can survive pestilence, tornados, torrential rains and gravel roads….I can handle anything that life has to offer.
Lets see how Nebraska will treat us! Care to outrun a buffalo?
Well we made it through our last night at the sketchy motel in San Antonio and it was time to move on.
Texas is hot. Even on a motorcycle its hot. Usually you want to wear your leathers (aka chaps and jacket) when riding, but not so in Texas. It wasn’t probably the safest thing to do, but Iwas riding in jeans and a t-shirt for this day. And it was still hot…but….I didn’t mind…I was on the road to new adventures again.
We had put alot on miles on the tires so far. It was decided we ride to a Harley dealership and and get new tires and a good check up on the bike. We made an appointment at Grande Prairie, Texas, Longhorn Harley (such a cool name!), and headed that way. We did ride pretty quick to make our appointment, but there were a couple of towns we passed through that need to be mentioned.
One was Round Rock. Founded in 1851, this town was named for a huge round rock found in the creek flowing through it. The rock made the water slow down, thus making it a great crossing spot for the wagons, horses and cattle of the settlers heading North. Of note, Jessie Chisolm used this crossing to take his cattle from Texas to Abeline Kansas. This is part of the famous Chisolm trail, which as you will see we did travel on a few times.
The next memorable town is Waco. Most people remember Waco for the Waco Seige, and the Branch Davidians. This actually took place 13 miles from the city. Waco is home to the first suspension bridge in the World. Built in 1870, it spanned the Brazon River running through the city and became part of the Chisolm Trail. Many settlers chose to pay the toll to cross the bridge, while others loaded their cattle and wagons onto rafts and drifted down the river. Waco is also home to the World’s largest dinosaur fossil discovery, which includes 24 mammoths, 1 large cat and a camel. Notable people born here are comedian Steve Martin and rocker Ted Nugent.
We finally arrive in Grande Prairie and head to the dealership. Wow….what a place. Two floors of everything and anything you could ever want to wear or ride by Harley Davidson. We went to the lounge area for a coffee and met a wonderful local couple also in for repairs. They owned a ranch not far away and talked about the challenges they faced with the wild boars of the area. I didn’t even know that there were wild boars here…learn something new every day. Apparently they are quite the problem for ranchers and so they are hunted, especially at night. A bright light is shone on the field and the boars come towards the light….and sadly they are shot. The ranchers do eat the boars and share their harvest with others. The couple told us that under no circumstance should we be on the road once it starting getting dark. The boars are huge and will run out without warning and that would be a serious accident on a bike.
The woman then said that she made bandanas for fiking and wanted to give us some, so she went home and came back with her goods. They were really nice, but I didn’t have the heart to tell her they were too small for our human heads. The bandanas did come to good use once I got home to fancy up my puppies.
We only intended on staying for a couple of hours, but the repairs took all day and finally around supper time we were able to take the bike and head out. Since it was getting dark, and we were remembering the warning about the boars, we decided to stay at the first place that we could find for the night.
We ended up in Gainesville, Texas at a motel on the edge of town. Gainesville, due to stage coaches travelling through, became a supply hub for all of the cowboys on their cattle drives to Kansas. It is also where the very first roll of barbed wire (created and made only in Illinois), was sold in Texas. That was in 1875….can you even imagine how many rolls have been sold in Texas since then…nope…I can’t either.
The next day, filled with coffee and a sense of adventure, we are off…we are now heading towards Oklahoma. As soon as we can, we leave the Interstate to drive along the beautiful country roads. We rode through small towns in Northern Texas like Henrietta and Burkburnett, and finally crossed into Oklahoma.
Oklahoma has some beautiful country roads to drive, where you are either in thick forest or open fields. Oklahoma lies in middle of three geographical areas; the great plains, the cross timber and the Ozark Highlands. This puts it into Tornado Alley, and causes severe weather, including tornados, hailstorms, blizzards and derochers (wide, long lasting wind storms that move in a straight line). We were having great weather so none of this crossed our minds…but it will in Kansas and Wisconsin. Stayed reading for those upcoming blogs.
We rode and enjoyed the sights until about 3:00 pm when we decided it was time for a quick brewski and riding break. We went into the town of Norman, Oklahoma. Norman is a cute little town, and every April it is home to the State Medieval Fair, which brings in over 350,000 people to this tiny town. Vince Gill, Nadia Comeneci, James Garner and The Flaming Lips are from here….I do not believe I had ever heard of the Flaming Lips before, but the name sure sticks with you.
We found a little bar and went in for a drink. Of course, I start chatting with a local who is kindly giving us a run down on the things to see in and around Norman. At one point he mentions that Toby Keith has a ranch just out of town. I damn near spit out my beer….”Where”, I asked, intent on getting his answer. He mentioned where it was and then said…”my best friend is the ranch Manager for Toby there. Why don’t I call him and see if Toby is around. Then you can go meet him”….sweeeet. I love all music but to meet Toby Keith at his 160 acre HORSE ranch would be amazing. The call is made, drinks are finished, I am packing up ready to roll…and then…he returns to the table to say…it wouldn’t have been a problem, but Toby isn’t there….he is out of town. Now, most folks would go anyway, but what’s Toby Keiths’ ranch without Toby Keith….likely its a private property invasion of his family. So, sadly we did not get to meet Toby, but I have to admit that I was so happy being offered the opportunity. We thanked our friend and hit the road.
We made a reservation at a motel because it was close to Norman, and we were getting hungry and ready to settle for the night. I will be honest to say I don’t remember the name of the town. But I do have quite a few memories of this night to share with you.
About 5 miles out of town, we hear the rumblings of Harleys behind us and then one passes us….no problem….yes….problem. The folks on these bikes all wore patches on their vests…Hells Angels. As we neared a stop sign, the lead guy ahead of us drops beside us, so we are surrounded by about 5 bikes. The lead guy says “where you from”? My partner says Canada and the guy says “get the fk out of here”! My partner, always one for a laugh…maybe at the wrong time…says “No, you get the fk outta here…we were here first”. And then the guy…laughed so we all laughed although mine was somewhat nervously. We are now at a set of stop lights and have to turn right to our motel. Unfortunately they were going right too, and they asked if we wanted to join them to party at their club house. What a nice group right? We said no thanks and they went on their way. We pulled into the parking lot of our hotel, and then decided to cancel the reservation and just move on to another town….we just didn’t want to take a chance on the bike being recognized and then we might have company.
So, we headed down the road a few miles and found a motel…about the only one that had a room vacant. We had landed in a town that was holding its annual fencing competition ..what?….and the town was booked. The nice clerk recommended a place a county over and so away we went….tired, thirsty and just wanting a place to call home for the night.
We find this large motel, nothing fancy, but with hardly any cars in the parking lot….perfect. We pull in, and go to the front desk. There is no clerk there so we ring the bell. And then something that I will never be able to describe to you properly happened. As we stood looking at the wall behind the check in counter, the wall started to move…actually….well… the wall started to slide. Just like a sliding door. And out stepped a very hospitable man…the owner of this motel. Now as if the wall moving wasn’t enough…there was something of interest behind this wall…a room. Now this room was closet sized and from my vantage point I saw a bed, clothes, a hot plate and this gentlemans’ wife sitting on the bed making dinner. This was their home….at the motel, behind the wall. I don’t know what expression our faces had, but I do know that I have not experienced hospitality like we were shown by this man. Taken to our room, given fresh towels, more pillows and he just could not do enough for us. We asked were the nearest bar was….and no kidding….we were told it was a dry county on Sundays…and today…was…Sunday…ugh! He told us that the restaurant across the street was open and had a buffet. So since it was within walking distance, off we went.
This was a really big restaurant…one side buffet, booths in the middle and a bar (dry today) on the other side of the room. We took a booth and I ordered a sweet tea….yuk…its true to its name…sugar in tea. I drank my water instead. We grabbed our grub at the buffet and then heard a funny conversation. Two men were sitting across from each other in the booths behind us. They were chatting and the conversation turned to diets. The one guy said…and I quote…” Well, damn, if I lost 20 pounds I’d be nothing but skin and bones”. Now that in itself is not funny but what made it hilarious is that this guy was at least 300 pounds. I don’t think the 20 pounds lost would have had such an extreme impact as skin and bones.
We finish our meal and head to the bar to pay the bill. Sitting there were two guys who looked like they had not bathed in a year, ever used a comb and certainly had no need for a dentist. Not judging…this is just how they appeared. They were each holding a book. As we paid the bill, they started an articulate book review that would have put Oprahs’ book club to shame. I mean a deep physicological analysis of whatever book they were reading. I was without words. Just validates to not judge a book by its cover…ever.
Well, after a good nights sleep, we head to the lobby to check out. The owner had his entire family in the lobby…and it was alot of people. Not sure if they reside behind the wall together or not…guess I will never know.
We eventually end up in Caldwell, Kansas which has some really interesting history and is part of the Chisolm Trail. It was a notorious cowtown, with the highest murder rate and the greatest loss of law enforcement of any other. Cowboys were known to go wild here in the “Border Queen City” after months of driving cattle on the dusty and dangerous trails. This is the place where true stories were written into the romanticized ideas of many American Cowboy novels. There is a building in the downtown called The Stock Exchange Bank. It was erected in 1881 and cost $5,000 to build. It is in the same spot and to this day is still in use as a bank, with a set of longhorn steer horns gracing the entrance to the vault. On top of this bank are cutout figures of gunslingers, and others across the street. It makes for an interesting feeling of being in history as you drive by.
It seems that we are on endless county roads and that now there is cornfield after cornfield. It is really beautiful. I remember being on a road that seemed to go through the cornfields, and we came to make a right hand turn. From what I remember it was a pretty tight corner but we had done all kinds of those. We did the turn….and the bike went out from under us….really slow….so like I did at Jack Daniels (see previous blog), I just stepped off the bike. We gathered ourselves, righted the bike and then….there it was…big, dark, ominous, hairy and staring right at us. A tarantula. Now, my riding partner, ever the ecologist, (not), decides he wants a picture. But the tarantula is not co-operating in this photo shoot. He keeps turning away from the camera, and my partner keeps running around to his face….essentially pissing the tarantula off. At this point I am observing from a distance and I tell my partner that tarantulas can jump…up to 2 feet and more. He says that not true and continues to snap pictures of the agitated tarantula until he realizes that I am quickly getting more annoyed at him than his bug buddy.
We mount the bike and keep on riding. We finally stop for gas at a town called Conway Springs. We grab some beer for later, and then get directions to the liquor store for a little bottle of Jack….how happy we would be later that we made this purchase.
At the Grain Bin Liquor store the lady was really sweet. She was a grandmother. How do I know, you ask? Well, she had her granddaughter there, a toddler, on the floor in a blocked off area with all of her toys… right there in the liquor store. Anything goes in small towns I guess.
The nice lady recommended a bar for a quick drink….just down the street. So we over we went and as always stopped the bike, ready for me to hop off and my partner to back it into a parking space. I literally had just put both feet on the ground…when this happened. Two guys came out from behind the bar, each putting an arm in mine and walked me into the bar. This left my partner trying to park the bike, and rush in to make sure I was ok. Let me just say I was more than ok. I sat at the bar and they poured me a beer, and then things got a little flirty ( my partner seemed to take forever to get in the joint). They did their moves on me and I responded with “there had better be a beer on the counter for my partner when he walks in or…”. Instantly a beer appeared just as he walked in. Welcome to Salty’s Bar.
The owner was named Salty and appeared as though he had sailed the seven seas for years. He offered us a place to stay the night and to come over for supper. The waitress was the best…great sense of humor and soooo many questions about Canada….you see, only one guy in town had done any sort of travelling, and that was to deliver an auto part to another town about 20 miles over. We were the only Canadians that had ever visited their town and they loved us. We were given tokens for beer…that way no money was exchanged and they wouldn’t be caught “selling” us beer over the allowed limit. The bar soon was full of townsfolk who had come to see us and a mechanic even offered us his couch to sleep on if we would stay and party with them all. His couch was in his garage and it was a cinder block building with no air conditioning in sweltering heat…so thank you so kindly, but no. We booked our room in a couple towns over and got ready to leave. As we climbed on the bike, the entire bar came outside to say goodbye….they all waved as we left. It was so touching…What a wonderful bar in the middle of nowhere.
We did not have far to go to reach our room for the night and we were in great spirits. We had a wonderful day, met great people and were loving driving the county roads amidst the corn fields. And then…
I remember the spot…I remember the right turn onto a road….I remember the road looking light colored, not dark pavement. And then I remember being yelled at to stand up…stand up. I also remember being on my hands knees and staring at all of the ants moving around on the ground. Then it hit me…we just dropped the bike….bad.
There was no stepping of the bike with this one. I know we were going slow. I remember we made the corner but then I guess the pavement was the same color as the gravel that had been kicked up onto it, and that gravel took out our back wheel real quick. I was apparently thrown off the bike and landed thankfully on my hands and knees. My partner had the bike fall onto his leg, which thankfully did not break, and although it hurt his hip, it could have been much worse.
Once the shock wore off a little we realized that we needed to get the bike up. But how. It wasn’t a one person job the way it landed and I was not much of a help at that point. Then an absolute miracle happened. In the middle of cornfields, with no lake or river to be found for miles, appeared a truck towing a big fishing boat. Yes, and it came right to where we were. The man got out, took me to his tailgate, sat me down and handed me a beer. He then went over and helped lift the bike…only a couple of scratches and a bit of a bent mirror. He offered to load us and the bike in his truck and drive us to wherever we were going. But we knew that we had miles to go on that bike and the only thing to do was to face the fear and get back on and ride. And thats what we did.
Our motel wasn’t too far away, so we headed towards that town…in total silence. I think the shock of the accident was really setting in and although it was unspoken, I feel like we were both scared to be riding. We went to check into the motel and asked for a room on the main floor. It was a two storey building without an elevator and we both were having trouble walking without pain. The gal at the desk said the only room she had was equipped for handicapped folks, but you could park right at the patio door….we took it. We slowly unloaded our belongings and then hobbled across the street for some supper. We didn’t much feel like sitting long because it was uncomfortable so after a quick meal we headed back to relax. Remember the bottle of Jack Daniels we purchased in Conway Springs? Well… we poured two very large glasses of it, took some tylenol and rested. The bars in the bathroom by the toilet and in the shower came in handy since we both needed some help getting up and down, and to stand in the shower. I went to bed and slept, dreaming of what adventures were next.
I realized that with the pleasure comes the pain sometimes, and that I was grateful for this adventure, that we were both alive and not badly hurt and that I was blessed to be experiencing this journey.
With Texarcana behind us and out on the open road in the rain, our spirits are high…because….we are heading towards our goal…San Antonio.
As always, we took the back roads. Texas is vast and beautiful. Farmland, big cities, horse ranches, cattle ranches, one horse and two horse towns….awesome.
We took Highway 59, taking our time, enjoying the small towns. The first one was Linden. This is said by some historians to be the birthplace of Scott Joplin, the famous ragtime composer and pianist. He combined classical music techniques with African rhythms and melodies. One of his most known songs is “the Entertainer”. Joplin died in 1917 from syphillis. As a note, Texarcana also claims to be the birthplace of Joplin….a mystery isn’t it?
Next little town was Coffeeville…..now…just by the name alone I want to live there. Its’ actually a literal ghost town. It was a resupply site for the wagons going west. It had a population of 50 townsfolk. When the railroad was built, unfortunately it by-passed Coffeeville, and the 50 townsfolk eventually moved on. It is pretty eerie driving through a ghost town.
The next little town is Gilmer, with a population of 5100. It is built on the Old Cherokee Trace, a trail used by the Cherokee to travel. Sam Houston traveled this trail when he lived with the Cherokee, and on his way to the Alamo. What I didn’t know is that this town has a couple of famous people to its name. Don Henley of the Eagles was born here, as was Johnny Mathis. And another perhaps lesser known figure: Rob McClelland. He was the surgeon that worked on JFK the day he was asassinated.
I don’t recall every place we stopped for lunch or a breakfast but I do remember going through this town. Truth be told, I didn’t know the history I am going to share with you at the time, but I sure wish I had. This town is called Gladewater. Johnny Cash wrote, “I walk the line” here. He was on tour with Carl Perkins and in their dressing room, he wrote this song in under 20 minutes. Bet you are humming that tune now, aren’t you?
Now, here is something so cool, that I am bummed out that I didn’t know it at the time, or I would have gone to see it. Gladewater is the first place that Elvis Presley placed a paid gig…what? Yep, in 1954 at the Mint Club. A DJ named Tom Perryman booked him and they became close friends. Elvis offered Tom the job of being his Manager…Tom turned it down because he had a family and, as a DJ, he was making $130.00 a week and Elvis couldn’t afford to pay that. Elvis played at the Mint many times and always stayed at the Res-More Motel…owned by the Brookings…in room #104. Many fans go visit the motel to this day and pay tribute to Elvis outside of room #104. I would have went to see that for sure.
This next little share of info I remember very well. Texas is hot….its damn hot. Even riding in the breeze its sweltering and this day was no exception. We needed to book a room for the night so we pulled off into a parking to check the map for the nearest town, and find a hotel. I decided that I was too hot to stay in the sun and so when I found a nice tree and some shade I plunked right down and began to look at my map. All of a sudden my riding buddy is yelling at me to get up….and I mean yelling. I asked why and before I could say anything else, he grabs the map and starts swatting my back and legs with it. Now I am confused, mad, and about ready to say something to him when he yells ….”ants…..you are covered in ants”. Yes,… oh yes, I was and now I was feeling the bites. Fire ants are not friendly when you plunk your butt on their home…they are ticked. So, very quickly off came my boots and socks…yes I was still being swatted with the map. This must have been quite the comedic display to those driving by on the highway. Eventually the ants went marching one by one back to rebuild their home, and I put my socks and boots back on, found a hotel in Tyler, Texas and we hit the road again…..one of us scratching all the way…( as a note I am laughing so hard as I write this just reliving this frantic moment).
We checked into a La Quinta hotel. This was a nice hotel with breakfast included…sweeeet. As we were heading to our room, there was an elderly couple ahead of us. She was struggling with their luggage while trying to help her husband in a wheelchair. My partner went to her and offered to help. So he pushed her husband and she managed the luggage. As we chatted, we learned that this gentleman was a war veteran and he shared a few of his memories with us. We thanked him for his service and made sure they were safe in their room. You know, it sure makes your heart warm when you can help someone out. Dinner eaten and calamine lotion applied…we planned the next days trip to San Antonio. ( In case you are wondering…ant bites itch like crazy and even though I was only sitting on the ant hill for a couple of seconds, my entire back, most of my legs and a little of my arms were covered in tiny red bite marks…lesson learned).
I typically don’t write about breakfast. As long as there is coffee and a croissant or muffin and some fruit, I am good. The hotel offered a continental breakfast buffet so we decided to have some grub before heading out. There was a waffle maker there, and that on its own isn’t too exciting. But this waffle maker was a little different. My partner decided he wanted waffles and so grabbed the batter, poured it into the maker and let it cook. When he opened the lid, he yelled…”look…its in the shape of Texas”. So over I went and sure enough, the waffle emerged in the shape of the State of Texas. Because this gave him so much joy, that literally had the whole restaurant laughing…and making waffles for themselves…. I am sure he made another one. It is important to remember this little anecdote because an expectation had been set, and disappointment of future waffle makers was sure to follow.
Heading to San Antonio, we went through many small towns with names like Buffalo, Jewett, Franklin and Rockdale. We finally reached the outskirts of Austin. While we didn’t go through Austin it is worth sharing some facts about.
Austin is called the “Live Music Capital of the World”. It is the home of the Austin City Limits, the longest running live music show, originally featuring only country music, but now open to all genres. Austin is the birthplace of many famous people: Lance Armstrong, Sandra Bullock, Walter Cronkite, Janis Joplin, Matthew McConoughey, Willie Nelson, Robert Plant, Dan Rather, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Renee Zellweger. Also many notable movies were filmed there: Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Secondhand Lions and my fav, True Grit.
It was while taking a little break outside of Austin that we looked for a room in San Antonio. For some reason everything seemed to be booked…but then…eureka….we found a room. It was at a motel described as close to the river walk, with a pool, clean and it included breakfast ( wonder if the waffles will be shaped appropriately here?). We book for two nights and set out again. And finally we are arrive….at our Shangrala!
Hell no! This was a two storey sad state of affairs motel. The overpass for the interstate highway nearly went right over the motel…scratch having a view. The place was clean but in a” handy man special” state. The pool had water….but it was green and I think it was creating an ecosystem of its own. We don’t care. This is an adventure…caution is once again thrown to the wind. We enter the room…I keep my boots on re: carpet is questionable…grab a beer each and go sit outside our room. Now this neighborhood didn’t feel great so, we were a little concerned about the safety of the bike. As we discuss this a rather big guy comes over. He says hello and we start chatting. He mentions that the car beside the bike is his. Its a Mercedes and seems to be in good shape so we feel he is respectful of vehicles and therefore the bike is ok. Then he tells us to come see the driver side door….its all bashed in…and he calmly tells us that he did the bashing with a bat over something about his daughters’ boyfriend. At this point I befriend him by offering him a beer…he thankfully accepts. This guy says that his wife is the Manager of this motel and she is the one that checked us in. He assures us he isn’t going out and that he will make sure the bike is safe…alrighty then…problem solved? At one point this guy puts his hand in his pocket and out falls a large bag of drugs….looked like cocaine….but I am choosing to believe it was flour for the Texas shaped waffles in the morning…not likely.. We say nothing he picks it up and we chat. He lets us know that we need to cab to the River Walk and it will take about 20 minutes. No problem. At this point, something out of a movie happened. The motel had two sections almost forming a T shape. Out of nowhere, down what appears to be a lane way comes a white cargo van. It stops. A door to a room on the second floor opens… the side door of the van opens…and out run 7 or 8 people and they quickly dash into the room and the door closes. The van takes off. These folks appeared to be sneaking into the country by human traffickers. Well… we were speechless. And we knew better than to acknowledge what we had seen or to ask…..so…. we all had another beer.
Now it was time to cab down to the River Walk. I do not even have words for how amazing this is. I have never seen so many shops, and bars and restaurants on both sides of a river, with outdoor patios and flowers ….well you just have to see it sometime for yourself.
The River Walk is 13 miles long, right through the downtown. It is surrounded by parks and hotels, museums and is alot to take in. We did a little walk around grabbed dinner and went back to the no tell motel. Phew…bike was safe.
The next morning was July 4th, a big holiday in the USA. We have breakfast, ( don’t mention waffles please), and our “guy” comes into the lobby and invites us to a family barbeque. I think its a genuine offer, but I don’t feel these are the folks I am looking to party with. We decline, jump in a cab and back to the downtown. We walked around and eventually had lunch in a little pub. I got my belly button pierced..
Ok…I will share the belly piercing story. I had wanted to get it done and I had said that it would be cool to do it in a place that would be a memory for me…so….I chose San Antonio. I was nervous and hoping both to get it done and for everything to be closed for the 4th of July and I could say at least I tried. Well out of the blue we end up in front of a tatoo shop and in we go. The owner is at the counter…I try to sound cool as I nervously say I want a belly piercing….he says sure…and picks up his hand gun that is laying on the counter and puts it in the cupboard behind him. Now, this may not read like anything exciting, but I have never ever in Canada seen a hand gun out in a business….I must say it does set the tone and I am certain sales are made quickly without any negotiating. Belly got pierced….and away we go…to the Alamo
The story of the Alamo is sad, and there is one particular room in the mission that makes your soul feel pain and sorrow. But in general, it was noisy, touristy and very small. The history is quite detailed so I will give only a brief idea: ending on March 6, 1836 after a 13 day battle between the Texans and Mexicans for possession of the Alamo Mission. James Bowie (remember I told you where the Bowie knife came from in a previous blog), Davey Crockett and many others died that day. There are statues to honor the defenders and many other war memorials on the grounds. The room that sticks with me is the powder keg room. Depleted of any more ammunition, the women and children ran to hide in this room with several Texan soldiers. When the Mexicans opened the door they simply kept firing their guns killing everyone, who were defenseless, inside. What is eerie is standing in that room, seeing all of the bullet holes in the walls and realizing they spent days hiding in there, listening to the horrors of death on the other side of the wall. It is a memorable room.
After the Alamo it was time to go and really party on the River Walk. The place was packed with people…but…when you went into a bar to get a drink…there was hardly anyone in the place. Odd? Nope…not when you arrive in town at the same time as the International Alcoholics Anonymus 75th Annual Convention. Oh Yeah. You could get a drink anywhere….but the coffee shops had line ups. So…we went bar hopping.
A great place was a British Pub, complete with fish and chips and a bulldog statue out front.
Another great place was an Irish Pub..where we met a AA convention goer that bought us a round, himself only drinking water and sending money with my partner to go get the round, so people wouldn’t think he was drinking. A real nice guy. Also there we met a…I think dental surgeon from Canada. He had a place in Phoenix, Arizona and he wanted to give us a key and told us even if he wasn’t home to use his house and sports car and …..we didn’t take him up on his offer…instead we shared a few drinks and a few songs and parted ways. Actually that reminds me of something I forgot in Nashville. We met a veterinarian and his wife from Corpus Christie. They offered for us to go stay at their home on the water but we only planned on going as South as San Antonio. I remember he was a veterinarian for large animals and was telling me about surgery on a giraffe. How the heck did I forget to tell you that….well now you know.
We didn’t walk to the park to see the fireworks but watched them from the River Walk. Then it was time to head back to Shangrala Motel….and pray the cockroaches were as sleepy as we were.
Tomorrow some more of Texas….and then…well…there is a whole lot of horse country from here on in for this cowgirl…and a couple of adventures and a meet with a genuine cowboy….I would stayed tuned if I was you!
Some people would say there isn’t much to see or do in Arkansas. And that may be partially true…but I have some magical memories there…so lets start the journey now.
Leaving Memphis late afternoon made for a short day of riding, to ensure as I mentioned we were off the road once it became dark. Since Little Rock, Arkansas is only about 2 hours away, we decided to head there. It was as always a back roads journey with beautiful scenery, winding roads and farmland as far as the eye can see. We went through Lonoke which got its name in a unique way: it was originally named Lone Oak, named after the one red oak tree that remained after the forest was cleared to build the town. Due to a misprint in the local paper, the town became known and spelled as Lonoke, and it remains so today. Funny how things can change in unexpected ways.
After a couple of wonderful hours of taking in the scenery, we arrive in Little Rock. I imagined it to be a small city, but it was bigger than I expected. Little Rock was the home of Bill and Hillary Clinton. It is also where the Bill Clinton Library and Museum is located which houses an exact replica of the Oval Office at the time Bill Clinton was President.
Little Rock got its name from a small rock on the Arkansas River. The rock was used as a landmark in the 1700’s for all of the river traffic and it became the site for crossing the river. It was named Little Rock in 1772 by a French explorer….and it has stayed to this day. Awesome!
I don’t recall where we stayed…but it was likely as always a decently clean room. So we went cleaned up and headed downtown for food and nightlife.
We happened to stumble upon a very funky restaurant….one of those places that, back then, the food was okay, but the ambiance was amazing.
Welcome to the Dizzy Gypsy Bistro…a wonderfully funky place with a full menu, cool drinks and an atmosphere that keeps you searching the room and finding new treasures your entire the visit.
After dinner it was time to find a bar. We walked the streets looking for a nice spot for a drink. As a note, always keep your id with you when bar hopping in the USA. We were id’d every bar we went to ( made me feel young again),..oh, and don’t have any chains attached to your wallet (common when riding a bike)…considered a weapon at the bars and the bouncers will tell you to move along.
We stumbled upon something I had never seen before…a bar featuring dueling pianos. Now as a player of the keyboards myself, I was really excited to go in for a drink.
This was a wonderful way to spend some time sipping a bevie and listening to the two extremely talented pianists duel it out…playing requests from the request jar simultaneously and even doing impromptu duets seamlessly. I absolutely loved this and look forward to another bar with dueling pianos. As a note…as I write this I found out that this bar is no longer operating…thats a shame.
Well, it was time to find another bar for a wee tipple before heading back to the room. We came across a rockin bar and went inside. I am happy we did. There was a live band with a brass section, and the place was packed. I remember the singer was incredible and it was some very funky blues and jazz being played. We had a couple of drinks, a couple of spins on the dance floor and then it was time to go. I really do wish I remembered the name of this club.
I need to mention something here….we started out this trip with too much gear. Now, if you have never packed for a bike trip, you would not realize how little space you have. With one saddle bag dedicated to gps, maps, tools for on route repairs and the like, and the other saddled bag left for leather jacket storage and outer wear, there was little to no space for…um…clothing. So by day 2 a system had been worked out and it seemed to be doing ok, until while riding down the interstate at one point I notice the bag at my back starting to tip over. This elicited a quick stop to a Walmart for some bungie cords. Perfect. Not. At Little Rock we realized that our rain gear was taking up too much room, and we didn’t really need it ( oh, wait for my South Dakota blog and you will see how wrong we were), and there was a big camera and other things that we didn’t have room for or really use. So, it was decided that we would stop in Hope, Arkansas ( the actual hometown of Bill Clinton), and mail these extras home.
Hope, Arkansas. I don’t remember much of this town other than it was really quaint and tiny, with a population of only 180 people. Hope is historically a railroad town, named after Hope Loughborough, the daughter of a railroad executive. We located the post office and in we went.
I got a box to fit our things, the paperwork to fill out and set about getting things packed, weighed, insured, organized and paperwork in order. In the meantime, my riding partner was…well…starting to piss me off. He was chatting with a guy and had told him that he looked exactly liked Tommy Lee Jones. They laughed, and laughed and thought this was hilarious. I did not. One: why was he not helping me pack up our things and two: in what universe did he think this guy looked like Tommy Lee Jones. After much coercion, I finally took a picture of this guy, he left and I successfully sent off my package.
There was a great little surprise in Hope. We were told of this place not too far away called Washington, Arkansas. We hopped on the bike and went to discover what would turn out to be a very interesting site.
Washington, Arkansas is small….really small. It really is made up of a historical buildings and the Washington State Park. Washington was built in 1824 and was the first stop for pioneers as they traveled the South West trail to Texas. James Bowie and Davey Crockett traveled through Washington on their way to the Alamo. While there they met James Black, the local blacksmith, who crafted a knife for James, now known as the Bowie knife.
The park is a must see. It is filled with history, and historical buildings. We paid our admission, and set out to check out the sights. We explored the Courthouse first. In 1825 this was the County Court of Pleas for the area. It is a plain building, largely historically intact, but just thinking that pioneers who were heading out into the unknown to build there lives had been in there….well that made it a very special site to me.
We are walking out of the courthouse and meet the guy that made our visit to the site remarkable, and fun. I don’t recall his name, but he was there with his horse drawn carriage, working to get his last hour in so that he could head to the beer store and get some…supplies for the evening. This guy was informative, knew the history and shared it in such a fun way. He took his time to show us all of the highlights and to let us really get a feel for what we were seeing. He showed us the oldest magnolia tree in USA, the other buildings on the site, and we ended up at the weapons museum. The place was closing, and our guide told the museum curator we were visiting from Canada and so the doors were opened just for us. If you are into weaponry from all decades this is a place you don’t want to miss.
When our tour came to an end we looked at the map for a place to spend the night. I chose Texarcana. When asked why do you want to go there…I replied…..because its fun to say. Enough of a reason to go. And so we did.
Texarcana straddles two states; Arkansas and Texas. The state line actually runs right through the middle of the post office. Now that is cool.
We found lodging at a Rodeway Inn on the Arkansas side with the state of Texas side right across the interstate behind us. When we pulled in I knew it was going to be a nice evening. The place was full of other bikes, families and other travelers. We got changed and came out to a parking lot party. So fun. At one point a mom traveling alone with her 3 boys came over because the boys wanted to see the bike. How excited were they when we said they could sit on it and get a picture taken to show their Dad. Happy kids….happy mom. Most of us stayed outside to see the stars and drink beers and chat. A really great night.
The next morning after I packed up the bike, I walked over to join a conversation my partner was having with a guy in a truck. Sounds normal right? Not entirely. This guy was a policeman and he was on his days off…chasing storms…particularly tornados. He had a massive truck and inside, right beside him, he had an entire laptop setup, tracking weather systems. He was predicting rain and a potential storm coming. He told us that we could speed through to the county line to avoid the storm ( at this point the rain starts), but be careful in the other counties because the police love to give out tickets…even to him.
We said our goodbyes, and went to the bike, realizing that we had sent all of the rain gear back to Canada (timing truly is everything). We had the radio set with tunes playing, and then we did something that to this day makes me smile. We laughed….we laughed because of the non existent rain gear…the fact we were soaking wet…and likely hysteria due to lack of morning coffee. So we danced….we danced and danced and forgot about the rain, and where we were and everything else. We just danced in the rain…why…because we could…and where…in Texarcana…because its just fun to say.
Now we are in Texas…where everything is big….even the adventures….stay tuned.