Into the West

It’s Saturday July 29th, 2017 and we arrived in Mitchell SD this afternoon, overnighting at an enormous Cabela’s before heading on tomorrow to Rapid City.  It’s been a little over a week since we left Mackinaw City, and it’s time to catch up.  Settle in, this’ll be a long one.

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After nine months on the road, living in our amazing Newmar Ventana, this is the leg of the trip we have both been waiting for…into the west, big sky country, high deserts, the Great Plans, buffalo, and corn.  Oh wow so much corn.  Everywhere.  It’s been a running joke since Indiana.  I mean, I knew we produced a lot of corn, but hearing that and actually seeing mile after mile of cornfields are two completely different things.  I think we actually oughta build a shrine to corn.  More on that later.

Mackinaw City and Mackinac Island were a fantastic jumping off point, and we are truly into parts unknown now.  Peggy had never been to Michigan and I had only been there once a few weeks earlier for business.  Same for Wisconsin and Minnesota.  But today we crossed the line into South Dakota and entered a state neither one of us had ever been to.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Friday 7/21 was our last day in the Mackinac area, and after enjoying the Tunnel of Trees and Pond Hill Farm we got up early Saturday morning and headed out.  Step 1, cross the Straights of Mackinac by driving across The Mighty Mac, the third-longest suspension bridge in the world and just an incredible view across the straights into St. Ignace and the UP (yoo-pee).  Winds through the straights can be very high, resulting in speed limits of 20mph for big trucks and RVs like us.  Five-and-a-half miles across, it takes a while!  I thought it was absolutely amazing, and while Peggy took some great pictures, she was just a bit freaked out by the whole thing.

Somehow we made it across unscathed and continued into the YooPee.  What can I say about the UP?  The locals are known as Yoopers and we had a pretty good wine the other night called Yooper Stupor; at 18% alcohol, it earned its name.  The landscape is different from the lower peninsula, a little more craggy and the trees are different.  It really reminded me of central Florida in some ways, Monterey in others.  But the biggest thing are the RVs!  I swear every other vehicle was an RV of some kind, and most were 5th wheels.  Lots of small towns, easy driving and just a nice run to Wisconsin.  We didn’t get to spend any time there, but it was pretty.

Wisconsin.  Land of Cheese, Lombardi and Rodgers.  We crossed into the state in the small town of Marinette, a pretty town where our good friend Marianne Murphy hails from.  She told us to find some squeaky cheese.  Huh?  It looks like a nice place, but we just passed through.  The goal was Green Bay where we would be spending the night at Cabela’s.  Movin’ on!

…and made it to Green Bay!  For those who might not know, Cabela’s allows RVs to stay overnight in their parking lots for free.  The provide RV-specific parking, and even have water and a dump station available if you need it.  Makes for a great place to stop over when you’re making a cross-country run.  That’s the RV parking in the top left – we parked in the first space.

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The first order of business was food, and you know Green Bay has a lot of places for food and brew.  We passed at least 25 bars on the way to dinner!  And we only drove 4 miles.  Wow.  We found a wonderful place called Titletown Brewing Co. in the old rail station.  They turned the station and the platform into a restaurant/patio area and are dog-friendly.  Surprisingly hard to find dog-friendly places up here, but this place was fantastic.  After a long day’s travel, dinner was just about all we had the energy for. Although we did drive past a local landmark.  I understand this place gets pretty crowded in the fall.

With food taken care of, we did go in and wander around Cabela’s for a little while.  I ended up with a couple shirts and shorts, and we picked up a new camping water bowl for Samson.  That was about all we had the energy for, so rolled up the sidewalk and went to bed.

The next morning we got up early and made a little breakfast, and then hit the road with the goal of Albert Lea in southern Minnesota.  It was an easy drive, with the world getting flatter the further west we went, and LOTS of farmland growing mostly corn.  Lots and lots of corn.  We would spend the week in Albert Lea, in a small campground called Hickory Hills…actually that campground is about 10 miles outside the town, in the middle of farmland with about two miles of dirt road to get there!  Really out there.  And very nice, quiet.  The only sounds were the kids in the pool, the occasional eagle’s cry, and the crop duster going overhead.  We did spend some time at the pool, got some work done, and generally just enjoyed a week in the quiet country.  Oh yeah, there was one additional side trip…our 15th Anniversary.  But that’s the subject of another post.

Samson made friends with the good folks who ran the place, and got to go for a ride in the golf cart.  He got used to the carts when Peggy was working at Cave Country, and every time he sees one he thinks he’s going for a ride!  They were only too happy to accommodate him.

About that crop duster.  It’s an Ayers Thrush powered by a WW2-era radial engine, and if you’ve ever heard one you know the sound instantly.  I heard the plane before I ever saw it, and knew exactly what it was.  Peggy thought I was going nuts because I got excited over a crop duster!  But interesting bit of personal history, when I was in college I worked for a business turboprop company called OMAC which is no longer in business.  We shared factory/hangar space with the Ayers Corporation (since renamed to Thrush Aircaft) at the Albany, GA airport.  At the time (late 80s, wow I’m old), Ayers made three models – the radial-powered Thrush, the bigger radial Bull Thrush, and the brand new turbo-prop Turbo Thrush.  I used to love watching them roll off the assembly line and head for flight testing.  Those big radials are something else.  Seeing a vintage Thrush being used like it’s supposed to be was a cool experience.  Brought back a lot of memories.

After a very pleasant week at Hickory Hills, we headed out early Saturday morning with a new target, Mitchell South Dakota.  This would be the first time both Peggy and I entered a state we had never been too, true new-territory.

This is really the Great Plains.  The land got flatter and flatter, the sky bigger and bigger.  You can’t appreciate the scale through pictures but we’ll try.  The next post will be headed to western SD and boy do we have some pictures to share there.  But the trip to Mitchell was very easy, good roads, flat and straight, and did I mention flat?  And corn.  Lots of corn.  In fact, once we got to Mitchell, we visited something called The Corn Palace.  Holy Corn batman, it’s a religion out here!

The cool thing at the Corn Palace was they maintain a live webcam looking at that upper deck.  We texted both Daniel and Miranda the website for the webcam and they saw us there live!  Yes that’s me, Peggy and Samson standing on the balcony of the Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD with a picture taken on a webcam across the street, viewed by Miranda in Kennesaw, GA, screenshot and then she texted the pic back to me while still standing on the balcony.  Yeah that was cool.

Well that catches us up to Mitchell.  This post took me a couple days to write, so we’re actually in Rapid City now.  The next post will cover the journey from Mitchell to Rapid City with a detour to a Minuteman Missile museum, a loop through the Badlands National Park, and an off-road adventure.  See you next time!

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