Monday, June 29, 2009

Montana-Washington (aka Speed Racer and the Toys)

It's been a while since I actually posted here and after that last post I'm sure there's someone out there wondering what happened next. Did Shawn and Ana arrive safely on the West Coast? Were they instead abducted by aliens? Did they join a militia in Northern Idaho and prepare for the invasion of Canada via the Idaho panhandle? Did Ana's wild mountain driving make them careen off the road and into a ravine? Are they heading up COBRA, an evil terrorist organization determined to rule the world? No. Rest assured that the trip so far has been proceeding pretty much as planned with the exception that we've been forced to reevaluate the oceangoing leg of this summer's adventures. More on that in some future post.

Now for the last leg of the 2009 Road Trip for a little while.

Here's the route so far:
Map

At the end of my last update, we were staying in a motel in Billings, Montana. Since then we've transitted all the way to my in-laws house in Kent, Washington. We had all sorts of plans for more places to stop on the way, but after a month of living out of the car and our suitcases camping in Yellowstone or the Badlands had lost a tiny bit of its lustre.

So the rest of our trip was supposed to take two or three days and ended up taking one. Oops (tiny oops).

The day began with both of us waking up way too early and piling back into the car with the little dogs looking all sorts of alert:
AnaRu
That morning I nearly caught myself a free bunny (which would have made it not free anymore):
Free Bunny

I'd've had it, but Ana said I couldn't keep it (add that to the list). Still, I suppose it's better than having some Montana Game Warden tell me I couldn't keep it.

I'm not sure exactly where it was, but somewhere along the way we found the most customer friendly porta-potty West of the Mississippi.
Porta Potty
We nearly ran out of gas just shy of the Montana/Idaho state line and had to stop. I don't know the name of the town we were in, but it was apparently the site of some sort of 4-wheel ATV rally. As soon as we got off the interstate, everywhere we looked we were surrounded by dozens of random folks riding around helmetless on their ATVs. Each one had either a dog, a gun rack, a small child, or a large cooler mounted on the back and the whole scene was so completely odd and Ana and I were so busy gawking that neither one of us thought to take a picture until we were fueled up and back on the road.

What we did manage to take pictures of though was lots of scenery:
Montana Rest Stop

For no real reason, we also snapped pictures of every manner of shiny, vintage car, bike, or truck we saw along the way:
ghostflames
Sunbeam Tiger
Vintage VW Beetle and Teardrop Trailer
Vintage WA Cars

We even passed a trailer loaded with these little old Italian scooters:
Scooters

Speaking of frivolous photography, every time we had a legitimate reason to stop I've made a point of getting myself some sort of useless toy to add to the dashboard collection. The whole thing started innocently enough:
Dashboard toys1

Then it got worse:
Dashboard toys2

And by the time we were pulling into the garage at my in-laws' house, the dashboard toy collection had sort of spiralled into ridiculousness:
Dashboard Toys

It was a long day of driving and by the time we were in Washington State, little Ru had fallen fast asleep:
Sleepy Ru

It was all adorable until Ana decided to wake her up:
Ana Ru
(she's so mean to those poor little dogs)

Still, we'd arrived at last on the West Coast. We ended up staying for about a week and Ana continued doing all of her nerd stuff:
Ana home

Meanwhile I made helmet molds, unpacked a bit, did some camping, sold some stuff, lit a lot of things on fire, and ate a buffalo wing that was so hot it nearly burned out my O-ring:
HOT Wings

Those are all subjects for future posts though, so stay tuned.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Mount Rushmore and Other Mountain Whittling

After spending a night in Wall, South Dakota, Ana and I decided to check out Mount Rushmore. In case you're the one person who's never heard of it, Mount Rushmore National Monument is a mountain that was carved into the likenesses of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt.

The sculpture was designed and supervised by Gutzon Borglum, a sculptor who had already gained notoriety by making a number of monuments around the world to include Stone Mountain in Georgia. He quit that project when he started butting heads with the financial backers (including the Ku Klux Klan among others), but had perfected all of the methods he would need in order to make Mount Rushmore possible.

He originally planned on carving only Washington and Lincoln into the mountain, but later added Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt to the plan. Per his design, the 60-foot tall heads were only a small part of what would have been four figures from the waist up. Instead, Borglum died at age 54 and left his son to finish what he could with the funding they had left. The money ran out in October of 1941 and with the onset of the US involvement in World War II there was no hope of increasing funding.

Here's a picture of Borglum working on a scale model of what the mountain was intended to look like:


Despite being unfinished, it's still quite an impressive sight. Approaching from the East, this is the first view we got:
MtRushmore2

At the visitors' center, you can see the monument from the more famous angle:
Mt Rushmore

We spent quite a bit of time wandering around the visitor's center taking pictures and I learned quite a bit. The really good part is that nobody died in the making of the monument. The really screwed up part though, is that the sculptor actually put a hole in the back of Lincoln's head.* I am not making this up. Borglum's idea was to build a "Hall of Records" into the monument so that visitors could come from all over the country to this somewhat central location and view such documents as the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and so on. Trouble was: he didn't run this idea past anyone (like, say, Congress) and for some reason nobody was willing to put all of our nation's most prized historical documents in a cave in South Dakota.

Even though he didn't have any support for this concept, Borglum still went ahead with the blasting and carving. He managed to rough out a 70-foot long tunnel into the mountain behind Lincoln's head. Most people don't know about this because the entrance to the tunnel can't be seen from any of the areas where visitors are allowed. Bummer.

Even though they wouldn't let us see the hole in Lincoln's head, we still had a pretty good time:
MtRushmore

Since it was nearby and we were in a faces-carved-into-mountains mood, our next stop was the Crazy Horse memorial. We'd read mention in several places that all of the heads on Mount Rushmore would fit inside Crazy Horse's head and there was a lot of talk about all of the ways that this thing was great, so we figured it was worth checking out.

I'll admit it's probably bigger, but the way the visitor's center is laid out you can't get close enough to know for sure. This is the best picture I was able to get:
Crazy Horse1

The really irritating part is that it cost $10.00 per person to get this close. Once you've parked you car there's a massive visitor's center (read: tourist trap) where you can pay another $4.00 per person to take a bus up to the base of the mountain. Once we found this out, the whole thing started to sound like kind of a ripoff.

The reason for all of the commercialization is that the folks building the monument are making it a point to accept not one cent worth of funding from the Federal government. Given the spirit of the monument, I can understand why that matters (Crazy Horse was stabbed in the back by a white soldier) but it still seems like a lot of cash to lay out per person.

They'll need it though if they're ever going to finish the thing to the original sculptor's plan. I snapped this picture of a 1/300th scale bronze model of what the final monument will look like:

Crazy Horse2

It's only been about 50 years in progress so far, so they should be done in about a century or two at the current rate.

Leaving Crazy Horse, Ana and I wound our way through the Black Hills back to I-90 and points West. We ended up looping through a bit of Wyoming and ended up in Billings, Montana for the night. There I dreamed of one day carving my own face into the side of a mountain somewhere.** Because "why not?"

More to come, stay tuned...

*In case you didn't know, Lincoln was shot in the back of the head.

**I would use lasers. I don't have time for that "dynamite and jackhammers" BS.

Road Trip Continued

Here's what our route so far looks like:
Map
My last update ended just before we'd checked into a motel in Kansas City, Missouri for the night. The next morning we set out bright and early and continued North before we reached South Dakota and started heading West on Interstate 90. At a gas station somewhere along the way I spotted this little guy:
BirdO
When we finally got to South Dakota, we started seeing all sorts of signs for every tourist trap you could ever imagine. Having a bit of time to spare, we took a detour in Mitchell, South Dakota to see
the world's largest corn palace. I thought a palace built out of corn sounded cool (albeit unsanitary), but it turns out it was no such thing. Instead, it was a normal building with corn glued to the outside:
Corn Palace1

They glue new corn to it every year and change the theme based on the decisions of the Corn Palace Festival Committee. This year's theme was "America's destinations" which included all of the other nifty big stuff you can see across the country like this one:
Corn Palace2

Just so as you know: not all of the buildings in Mitchell, South Dakota have corn glued to them. While we were trying to escape we spotted this nifty plurple house:
plurple place
Back on the interstate, we began seeing more random signage advertising every manner of everything to be seen in the state from reptile gardens to caves to mountains to a particular drug store. Then, at a random off-ramp in the middle of the state, Ana snapped this picture:
Dinowalking I have no explanation for this life-sized steel T-rex skeleton being walked by a life-sized human skeleton.

There was normal scenery to be had out there too:
Clouds in the North
After a fairly long day of driving, we decided to end up in Wall, South Dakota:
Wall Drug1

It would be just another quiet town in middle America, but Wall is the home of
Wall Drug. This is one of the most conspicuous examples of how it pays to advertise. Their story began when they opened their doors in the depths of the Great Depression and not surprisingly failed to make a lot of money. Shortly after that, the owner's wife decided it'd be a good idea to put a sign out on the highway promising free icewater to customers and business came flooding in. Since then, they've put up more and more billboards all along I-90 and elsewhere. By now, signs advertising Wall Drug have been sighted in England, Japan, India, and even in space. Most are simple billboards, but some are much more elaborate:
Wall Drug Dinosaur
All of that advertisement has allowed Wall Drug to expand until it includes a couple of restaurants, every kind of gift shop you could imagine, restaurants, and so on. Before anyone asks, yes they still offer free icewater. More interesting than that, they sell all sorts of randomness. I wasn't able to convince Ana she needed to buy this hat in their westernwear store:
Wall Drug Hat
And she wouldn't let me bring home this lovingly taxidermied wolfman:
Wall Drug Wolfman

We almost got a jackalope, but finally thought the better of it:
Jackalope

After ambling around some of their stores until closing time, we headed back to the smallest motel room in the entire great state of South Dakota:
Wall Motel That was a queen-sized bed with just enough room to walk around it and a tiny bathroom with a shower just barely big enough for one person to stand in. So the luggage spent the night in/on the car.

The next morning we had breakfast and said a long goodbye to Wall Drug:
Wall Drug2
Said long goodbye included one more tour of all their random displays:

AnaJackalope

Then it was time to set out for Mount Rushmore and points West:
MtRushmore2
(Doesn't it look like Roosevelt's about to make a move on Lincoln from this angle?)

More on that in the next post...

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Yesterday I Saw the Most Beautiful Butterfly...

...moments before it splattered across the windshield:
Butterfly

I gave it a proper memorial service though:


This was at Pacific Junction, Iowa. It's a tiny little hamlet surrounded by miles and miles of corn. If you know your way around in the corn, you can find a Harley Davidson dealership there too. In case you can't find your way through the corn* there's a signpost to help you out as well:
Pacific Junction Harley Iowa

They have lots of shiny things to buy there:
Bike1
Bike2
But I didn't buy any of them since we didn't have enough room in the car:
Loaded
For that, and other reasons, we also didn't stop at the nearby Handbag Outlet:
Handbag Outlet
Tune in next time for the continuing trip north, the Corn Palace, the liesurely turn west, Wall Drug, Mount Rushmore, and more**...

*Nobody can find their way through corn, that's why cornfields so often find their way into American horror films.
**"More" includes buffaloes, antelopes, unidentified rodentia, dinosaurs, and a camel. Really.

A Few Pics I Forgot to Post in New Orleans

Here's Ana leaving her office on what was to be her last day stationed in New Orleans:
Last Day
Here's a car with a great paintjob that made me think of all the things I still need to do to my Miata:
Lemonhead Car
Here's all the crap we managed to cram into the back of Ana's car:
Loaded
And finally, here's Ana trying to figure out how to change a Transformers action figure from robot mode to car mode:
Tough Transformer

More to come, stay tuned...