Across the Mid-West and The Black Hills ~ August 4 – 9, 2014


We actually took three days to drive the 1,000 miles across the remaining mid-west to its western edge in the Black Hills National Forest. Neither Trey nor I recall the exact reason, but agree that the difficulty booking accommodations in the Black Hills may have influenced that decision.

As it was, we spent the first evening after departing Chicago in Des Moines, Iowa. Not a completely unremarkable city in that we could see for miles from the unobstructed view of our third floor hotel room where we had arrived just in time to see a somewhat remarkable sunset.

We had not traveled far down Interstate 80 the next morning when I saw a sign for the turn off to Madison County and its famed bridges. We did not turn and I felt a tinge of disappointment at the time which has since turned into regret — I will have to get back there.

We were to cut up Interstate 29 just east of the Missouri River which serves as the border between Iowa and Nebraska. Instead, we detoured across the Missouri and looped through the city of Omaha just so we could say we’d been to Nebraska – a first for both of us.

The reasons behind our Black Hills booking difficulty began appearing more numerously as we headed further west – Motorcycles. As in Chicago, our visit to the Black Hills had unknowingly coincided with a major tourist event – this time it was the 74th Annual Sturgis Black Hills Motor Classic.

Bridge Across the Missouri between Chamberlain & Oacoma, SD
Bridge Across the Missouri between Chamberlain & Oacoma, SD

After crossing the Missouri a third time and into the town of Oacoma, South Dakota, ours was one of only a few automobiles spattered among the Harley Davidsons parked outside of the Howard Johnson’s for the evening.

Soon after departing Oacoma, the landscape changed to rolling mounds of a golden color that I had never seen in nature. I failed to capture a photo so the image lies solely in my memory.

Wall, South Dakota
Wall, South Dakota


We had felt lucky to have snagged the last available room at the Coyote Blues Village Bed and Breakfast when we had called the owner from a payphone in Ottawa. We hadn’t know just how lucky we were until we had arrived at the secluded, yet conveniently located inn outside of Hill City, in the heart of Black Hills National Forest.

View from Coyote Blues
View from our patio at Coyote Blues Village

The owners are from Switzerland and were just as charming and welcoming as the surrounding environment. It was full of European charm from the Swiss chalet feel of the inn to the traditional breakfasts of cured meats, cheeses, eggs and fruit. Each guest room is decorated in a different theme. We stayed in the Turkish room and had a private patio and sauna overlooking the valley below the inn. We took advantage of the views, patio and sauna each of the three nights of our stay.

Private Patio at Coyote Blues Village B&B
Private Patio at Coyote Blues Village

We also enjoyed breakfast each morning on an outdoor deck with friendly bikers and travelers, and loved the comradery and sharing stories of the road.

Mount Rushmore

Once we had settled into our room, we headed to nearby Mt. Rushmore with the excitement of children. It was raining and the wet winding roads were challenging for the bikers, but provided us with a unique photo opportunity.

Mt Rushmore - Crying Presidents

Mt Rushmore - Crying George

The park service has done a nice job in tastefully accommodating thousands of daily visitors while preserving, best as possible, the mountain’s and surrounding area’s natural states. The walk way up to view the monument, along with the amphitheater at its base are a bit over the top, yet successfully achieve the goal of provoking patriotism.

Mt Rushmore Walkway
Mt Rushmore Walkway

We highly recommend an evening visit for the film on the monument’s history and stories of each of its presidents.

Rushmore at Night
Rushmore at Night

The evening program ended with a touching tribute to our country’s armed services’ veterans.

Honoring Veterans
Honoring Veterans

Hiking in Custer State Park

Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park provides access to over a dozen trails including South Dakota’s 111-mile Centennial Trail that wends through the Black Hills from Butte Bear in the north to Wind Cave National Park in the south.

Sylvan Lake, Custer State Park
Sylvan Lake, Custer State Park

We chose, at the recommendation of a fellow traveler, to tackle the less lengthy trek to Little Devil’s Tower. The trailhead is located a mile east of Sylvan Lake’s parking lot and the trail is an easy walk through a grassy birch forest for about the first half mile…

Little Devil's Tower Hike
Little Devil’s Tower Hike

at which point it becomes increasingly more difficult.

Little Devil's Tower Path
Path to Little Devil’s Tower

It is the last section that earns this hike the label of “strenuous” as the trail sharply ascends through and over rocky passages to the apex.

Little Devil's Tower - Up to the Summit!
Up to the Summit!

The surrounding views from the top of Little Devil’s Tower are well worth the trip — being surrounded by the Black Hills with Black Elk Peak (Harney’s Peak at the time) and its stone tower to the north…

Black Elk Summit and Lookout Tower
Black Elk Peak and Lookout Tower

and Cathedral Spires to the southeast.

View from Little Devil's Tower
View from Little Devil’s Tower


We then drove east on Highway 87 from Sylvan Lake and through a section called “Needles Highway” for the towering spires that the road twists around.

Spires along Needles Highway
Spires along Needles Highway

Several narrow tunnels on the route limit traffic to automobiles and motorcycles, so no RV’s or trucks.

Entering Needles Tunnel, Hwy 89
Entering Needles Tunnel, Hwy 87

Crazy Horse Monument

Crazy Horse Monument
Crazy Horse Monument

This massive sculpture has been a work in progress since 1948 and has received no federal funding, per the wishes of Oglala Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear who had envisioned such a memorial to honor all Native Americans. Chief Standing Bear had been inspired, so to speak, by the carving of nearby Mt. Rushmore.

The design is based on a pointing gesture and response that Crazy Horse is said to have given a snarky U.S. Calvary man who had asked him, “Where are your lands now?” Crazy Horse’s response was, “My lands are where my dead lie buried.”

Crazy Horse Model with Sculpture in Background
Crazy Horse Model with Sculpture in Background

The carving efforts have been in the hands of a single family, the Ziolkowskis, who rely on admission fees, gift shop and concession sales, and private donations to continue their work.

To provide some idea as to how tedious the hand carving process is, Crazy Horse’s face was unveiled in 1998. To provide a sense of the size the finished sculpture is to be at some point in the future, that will mostly likely be beyond my lifetime, Crazy Horse’s pointing arm is 263 feet long and his horse’s nostrils are to be 26 feet in diameter.


The Black Hills were a fitting first step into the wild and beautiful west and provided us with a taste of the wonder that laid before us.

Up Next, Devils Tower and the Battle of Little Bighorn National Monuments…

Meanwhile, here’s some more of our favorite pics!


Chicago, Illinois ~ July 30 – August 4, 2014

I’ve written elsewhere about our arrival in Chicago. We had been traveling ten weeks and I was tired. Chicago is where I had first begun to wonder whether it was traveling that I was actually doing, but there was still much to do and see in Chicago and beyond.

Chicago Skyline from Northerly Island

Our budget, combined with the fact that our visit coincided with Lollapalooza, had us staying in the suburb of Elk Grove instead of central Chicago as we had wanted. We didn’t realize that Lollapalooza was the cause of our displacement until we happened upon the three-day music festival while walking from the Lake Michigan shoreline to Millennium Park. By the end of our five day visit we had come to appreciate Elk Grove’s slower pace and placidity; particularly, Busse Woods, a forest preserve with seven miles of bike paths.

Busse Woods Bike Path (internet photo)

Also, Elk Grove offered some great local food options with Elly’s Pancake House, Cooper’s Hawk Winery and Lou Malnati’s for Chicago-style pizza and wine.

Cubs vs. Rockies

We took the Wrigley Field Express bus which dropped us off across from the stadium’s entrance and headed into the Cubby Bear bar for a pre-game dog, tots and beer. It was a lively, authentic and fun joint! And, YUM…

Dog, Tots and Bear from Cubby Bear’s Bar

Wrigley Field was the fifth MLB stadium we had visited on our tour; it also ended up being the last as our route was leading us westward and into the wilderness. We would not emerge until the first of September when we arrived in Seattle and the Mariners were on the road. By the time we would arrive in San Francisco the first of October, the Giant’s regular season was over. So, Wrigley Field was our last MLB experience, but what an awesome ending!

The crowd was great — if you really want to get to know the culture and people of a big city, go to a baseball game. Cubby fans were boisterous as the cubs scored the first three runs of the game which was enough to win the game.

Wrigley Field’s “Skyboxes”

Frank Lloyd Wright in Chicago

The renowned architect lived and worked in the Chicago area for the first twenty years of his career and left it with a vast collection of his prairie house designs. Most of the homes are privately owned, but there are several operated by the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust and open for tours.

Sculpture on the Oak Park grounds

We chose to tour Wright’s residence and adjoining studio in Oak Park. While the prairie home design was different, it followed basic constructs of late 19th century perceptions of what a family home should look like. Wright was only twenty-one when he designed his impressive Oak Park home and thirty when he designed the studio. I think the greatest enjoyment for me was seeing the contrasts between Oak Park and the Fallingwater residence we had visited outside of Pittsburgh.

FLW Home and Studio, Oak Park
Fallingwater, Pennsylvania

The differences between each home’s environments obviously would demand and conjure up practical and creative differences, but the contrasts I’m referring to are the varying levels of Wright’s growth and development into a true creative. He was sixty-eight when he designed Fallingwater, and had obviously freed himself from designing within perceptions other than his own.

The tour took us about an hour and half and afterwards, we walked around the historic neighbor enjoying other beautiful homes. The Trust offers a self-guided audio tour of other FLW designed homes in the area but we opted to go it on our own.

Adler Planetarium

Adler Planetarium, Northerly Island, Chicago

Trey joined me for an early morning yoga class at the Adler Planetarium. It was his first yoga class and as he said, “it got my heart going.” The class was held in the Granger Sky Theater and we moved from pose to pose while constellations and the Milky Way crossed above and around us. We then ended in resting pose while lying under a massive full moon. It was a pretty incredible experience for this yogi!

Yoga with the Stars, Adler Planetarium

The Adler sits on the bank of Lake Michigan, opened in 1930 and was the U.S.’s first planetarium. It continues operating as an astronomy and astrophysics research center and offers many workshops and educational opportunities to the general public. It also serves as a museum and houses some fascinating centuries-old tools used in studying, measuring and mapping the stars. One can catch a short film that carries watchers through the cosmos, or “ride” the Atwood planetarium — a metal sphere constructed in 1913 that holds eight people and rotates around them. The stars are actually light that emits from holes that were punched through the metal at varying sizes. The sphere and holes create a scale model of the observable night sky from the perspective of being anywhere and everywhere on earth.

General Sight-Seeing

There is much more to do and see in and around the area of the planetarium, including simply sight-seeing, which is what we did for the remaining afternoon. We walked along Lake Michigan and watched the boats go in and out of the harbor…

Tour Boat on Lake Michigan

…explored Millennium Park, played and posed in front of the Cloud Gate…

Cloud Gate, aka as “The Bean”

…ate tacos while listening to a salsa band on the patio of The Plaza Grill…

Pritzker Music Pavilion – Frank Gehry

and marveled at the abounding architecture and public art.

Look into My Dreams, Awilda – Jaume Plensa

Art Institute of Chicago

We’re often asked about the parts of our U.S. tour that were our favorites. Well, in the art museum category, Trey and I hands down agree that the Art Institute of Chicago was nothing short of spectacular.

Art Institute of Chicago

We had heard that one should plan to spend a day there, so, based on several past frustrating experiences in which we had not heeded such advice, we devoted an entire day to exploring the institute. It ended up not being enough time, but what we did explore of the three building, four level museum was pretty darn amazing.

Two Sisters (On the Terrace) – Renoir

Their collection seems to represent every age, culture and medium across the globe – from ancient Greek vases, thousand year old Mesoamerican figurines, and renaissance period armor…

Jousting Armor

…to American folk art, famous modern and postmodernism paintings, mid-century architecture, and film and photograph of all sorts, to name a few.

American Gothic – Grant Wood

We left the museum with the agreement that we would visit it again and then headed off in the rain to find dinner.

Chicago in the Rain

I feel that the evening walk in the rain provided us with a good sense of Chicago’s vibe and beauty.

The “L”

Dinner ended up being Italian at Tesori Trattoria and Bar. It was one of those occasions in which we were too famished to remember to take photos – a perfect ending to a perfect day. Plus, the carbs and wine helped us to get a good night’s sleep and prepare for the two-day trek to South Dakota.

Here’s more beauty from the Art Institute of Chicago…

Rocks at Port-Goulphar, Belle-Ile – Monet

The Old Guitarist – Picasso

The Bedroom – Van Gogh
The Child’s Bath – Mary Cassatt
Samson and the Lion – Cristoforo Stati
Buddha Shakyamuni Seated in Meditation – Tamil Nadu