Wednesday, October 1, 2008

34. Down the Home Stretch

After leaving Lake Superior, we looked forward to moving west into familiar territory. After nearly six months of continuous touring and sightseeing, our enthusiasm for adventure was fading. Frankly, we were wrung out and looking forward to getting home. However, there was one more possible diversion. Daughter Becky and her fiancĂ© Mike were planning their wedding in Jackson Hole, Wyoming on Sept. 22. They suggested that we might drop by if we were in the area. It was a long shot, but we kept that possibility in mind and decided to take the southern route through North Dakota and Montana just in case. We were hit with heavy rain as we drove through central Minnesota. The next day cleared up as we connected with I-94 at Fargo and continued on to Jamestown. We didn’t expect anything interesting in North Dakota, but were pleasantly surprised. Jamestown was home to the World’s Largest Buffalo, a 60 ton concrete monument to the herds of bison that once roamed the prairie. Nearby, was a pioneer village with a small herd of buffalo that included three albino bison, supposedly the only ones in all of North America. We got all three into one photo.In addition to some oversized furniture, the pioneer village also contained a replica of frontier author Louis L’Amour’s office. We had no idea he was born in Jamestown but, like we had seen before, every town has its local hero. Louis wrote 117 novels, 45 of which were made into movies. Pretty impressive. Maybe we should read one. As we continued west through North Dakota we came across the World’s Largest Sandhill Crane, an ugly (opinion) tin and pipe sculpture near a freeway exit. A little further down the highway was the World’s Largest Holstein Cow, perched majestically on a bluff overlooking the freeway. We were short on time and had to pass up an opportunity for a gander at the world’s largest turkey. Maybe next trip. The Theodore Roosevelt National Park and badlands are near the Montana border. This was, by far, the most interesting and scenic part of North Dakota and worth a closer look. The badlands were like a painted desert, Grand Canyon and the badlands of South Dakota rolled into one. This is where the buffalo roam and, if you look closely at the first photo, you’ll see one. It’s a good feeling to see these significant landscapes and wildlife habitats preserved. The buffalo seemed very content. Montana is one of Ron’s favorite states. He was a happy camper when we crossed into “Big Sky” country. The weather was sunny and warm, so we parked the RV for two nights near the Yellowstone River in Miles City for a little R&R.

We were camped a stone’s throw from the Miles City Range Riders Museum. It’s a fascinating place, full of eastern Montana pioneer history. The museum was founded by the Range Riders Organization in 1939 and has operated with fees, memberships and donations ever since. Emphasis is on cowboys and ranching so there are lots of old saddles, chaps, tools, and a large antique gun collection. The museum also has many Indian artifacts, including old photographs, war bonnets and large collections of arrow heads and primitive tools. A large barn contains old covered wagons, a Deadwood stage coach, chuck wagon, several sheep herder wagons (early RVs) and other vehicles. An impressive collection of old photographs and histories of more than 1500 local ranchers, artists, business people, Indians and others helped tell the story of Miles City. It was on the rustic side, but was one of the most interesting museums we have seen. As we rolled down the highway, one of Bonnie’s eyes decided to act like a mini kaleidoscope for a short period of time. She mentioned it to her doctor and was urged to go immediately to the nearest emergency room to have it checked out. We were camped in Laurel, Montana at the time, so we drove into nearby Billings and had the nice folks at St. Vincent Medical Center do some tests. She had a follow-up appointment with a Billings ophthalmologist the next day. The folks were all very efficient and friendly and the coffee was free. Everything checked out okay, so we continued on our way with no further problems.

We slowed our pace a bit in Montana so we could attend Becky and Mike’s wedding in Jackson Hole. We stopped for five nights at a very nice campground along the Yellowstone River in the Paradise Valley just north of Yellowstone Park. The Absaroka Range was at our doorstep and the leaves were turning. It was very nice, quiet and peaceful. We didn’t want to take the RV over the 8,000 ft. passes in Yellowstone, so we left it at the campground and drove the Honda through the stone arch at Gardiner and into Yellowstone. After 200 miles of slow up and down driving and sightseeing in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, we were happy to finally arrive in Jackson where we rented a real motel room for a couple nights. It was a welcome slice of luxury.The wedding was held at the National Museum of Wildlife Art, an impressive rock structure on a hillside overlooking the valley and mountains. Other than ourselves, the only guest was Becky's dad Bob. Ron was forced (peer pressure) to buy a new cowboy hat to be properly attired for the occasion. Jackson is not lacking for upscale western wear shops, expensive art galleries and great places to eat. After the wedding, the five of us went out for an excellent dinner at the Snake River Grill. We dined on buffalo, pork, wild boar, fish and other local cuisine and had a very nice time as we wished Mike and Becky many happy years together. We took our time driving back to Montana, stopping frequently to enjoy views of Jackson Lake, the Tetons, Yellowstone geysers, rushing rivers and wildlife. We’ve been there before, but it’s always different and never fails to impress. If you’ve never been to Grand Teton and Yellowstone Parks, we highly recommend putting it near the top of your list of places to visit. The most interesting sight we saw was at Mammoth Hot Springs. Three bull elk and their respective harems were gathered for the annual rutting season. The bulls were busy keeping their ladies together while bugling back and forth to each other. It’s a stressful and exciting time for the elk and they occasionally attack tourists or vehicles. So, it’s a difficult time for the park rangers who were busy keeping the camera-toting tourists away from the wildlife and the cars moving through the area. On Saturday, Sept. 27, we finished the final leg of our journey, a short hop from Moses Lake to Mill Creek. After 186 days and 17,000+ miles, our great adventure has ended and we are finally home again. The RV has been unloaded and cleaned from top to bottom. That's Ron scrubbing the roof. It took hours to get all the bugs off the front. We finally got the job done and returned the motor home to storage until our next outing. She did her job exceptionally well and kept us very comfortable most of the six months, with the exception of the air conditioning failure in Florida. But that was just a minor speed bump.We have a “to do” list that will keep us busy through the winter. We’re also looking forward to spending some quality time with our kids and grandkids. Ron’s mom is 92 and in an assisted care facility in Yakima, so we’ll take as many trips as possible to see her and help that part of the family as well.

This was our once-in-a-lifetime tour of the U.S. We’ll never do it again but we’ll be talking about it and looking at pictures the rest of our lives. We hope that everyone who followed along through our blogs and photos were able to share some of our enjoyment and good times. We thank all of you who called us or sent comments along the way. Your input helped motivate us to keep moving along. Now it’s back to reality and the tasks at hand.

The final sunset: Moses Lake, Sept. 26, 2008

Some Statistics:

186 days on the road
Visited 33 states, D.C., 4 Canada provinces and Mexico
Saw Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, Gulf of Mexico and all 5 Great Lakes
Crossed all the great rivers: Columbia, Missouri, Mississippi, Hudson, etc.
Drove 17,600 mi. (10,600 in the RV and 7,000 in the Honda)
Burned 1,457 gal. of gas
-- Most expensive gas: $5.03/gal. in Nova Scotia
-- Most expensive gas in U.S: $4.10/gal. in Needles CA
-- Least expensive gas: $3.28/gal. in Bullhead City AZ
Stayed at 52 different RV parks/campgrounds and 1 motel
Average cost of lodging: $18.19/day (not including the motel)
Most expensive RV park: $49.50 – Cherry Hill near Wash. D.C.