South Dakota – Mitchell, Sturgis, Custer State Park, and so much more….

We left for Sturgis, SD and came across Mitchell which is known for its Corn Palace.  This is a building utilized by the community for various purposes, including sporting events.  What is most interesting is that all the walls inside and outside the building are decorated with corn stalks, husks, and corn cobs of all sizes and colors to form beautiful murals.  These murals are taken down each fall and replaced with different murals.  Imagine the artistry involved.  It must be a full-time job, just to think of the project, let alone to create them.

And that was only the outside.  The inside walls were just as fabulous.  The attention to detail is unbelievable.

Some of the walls inside

We then continued on to Wall where the famous Wall Drugs is located.  We had lunch at Walls Drugs and then continued our trip to Sturgis, SD located in the beautiful Black Hills.

This year it was the Motorcycle Rally’s 75th Anniversary and about 1.5 million bikes were expected.  As you know, we are not bikers but it certainly was an item on our bucket list.  When we arrived in a full week ahead of the rally, we saw thousands of bikes everywhere and as the week progressed and the rally date got closer, more and more were seen, as if they were cloning.  We knew that we would have to share the road with many, many bikers and since Bertha Butt is a road hog, we opted to arrive a week early.

We stayed at Broken Spokes Saloon which sits on 600 acres about 10 miles out of town.  Since we arrived well before the crowd, we had the pick of the liter when it came to campsites.  We opted to choose a site far away from the pool area, as we were warned that if we chose something closer we would never get a night’s sleep.  The sites we chose had a beautiful view of Bear Butte and nobody to block the view.  Linda and Walter West and Doug and Kelly Williams joined us for the week there.

View as we opened our door each morning.

We also happened to be in the area during the blue moon.  Someone told me that is when you have two full moons in a month?  I’ll have to google that sometime.

As the week progressed though, you could see the number of bikes increase exponentially.

Of course, while in town, Doug and Kelly and we had to stop for libations at several of the local establishments.

Easy Rider Saloon

and of course, the Dungeon Saloon, where the lighting was indeed orange (not a photography faux pas)

Some of the prettiest bikes

In spite of the crowds, we were able to drive many beautiful scenic byways taking in some gorgeous scenery.  We decided to go through Belle Fourche, (pronounced “Foosh”), which is the exact center of the nation on our way to Spearfish and Deadwood.

Deadwood is a historic gold mining town that has not changed much of its appearance.  It’s an old western town.

Some of the West’s most flamboyant characters now “rest in peace” at Mount Moriah Cemetery.

Wild Bill’s resting place and Calamity Jane – right next to him.

We drove to Spearfish and absolutely loved the drive through Spearfish Canyon.  One early morning we drove to Custer State Park.  The Wildlife Loop Scenic Road is 18 miles of nature at its best.  While driving this route we encountered grasslands dotted with prairie dogs, deer and “begging” burros which like to come up to your vehicle’s windows, but most amazingly we somehow were trapped by the largest herd of buffalos we’ve ever seen.   The entire  herd was hard to capture as they were spread out and quite a bit.  They were roaming on both the grasslands and the road.  In front of us, beside us and behind us.  Actually, a couple of them decided they were going to get frisky “right behind Big Bertha”.   Naturally, John wanted me get out and take an upfront and personal picture.  What was he thinking?  We were told by the rangers that we might see bighorn sheep, antelope, even elk.  Unfortunately, none were to  be seen this time.  I bet you they saw us though.

Prairie dogs


Herd of bison.

Hmmm.  I dare not interrupt…

He needs to use the bark of an aspen tree to reshape his horn, after all, that is what deer do.

We then drove the Needles Highway is 14 miles long and it is actually amazing.  After seeing incredible needle like granite formations all around you, you get to drive your vehicle through a rock tunnel, the eye of the needle.  The needle eye tunnel is 8’6″ wide so Big Bertha had about a 2″ clearance on either side.  I know that John will probably never do that again.

The needle eye tunnel is barely wide enough for one vehicle and therefore vehicles approaching from either way of the two way road must stop and confirm that no vehicle is entering the tunnel from the opposite direction prior to entering themselves. 

Oh, let me give you a huge hug!

We then took the Iron Mountain Road which is 18 miles long. This road has several tunnels, but most specially there is a tunnel that frames Mount Rushmore.

On way back we drove by Mount Rushmore to see it a bit closer.

We drove up Mount Coolidge, elevation 6,023, which is one really winding and narrow road for a great views of the surrounding area including Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse Monument.

Mt. Rushmore

Crazy Horse Monument – is the largest sculpture in the world.  This sculpture began in 1939 as a memorial to Lakota Leader Chief Crazy Horse.  The original sculptor, Korczak Ziolkowski’s wish that no federal or state funds would ever be accepted to build the memorial.  When it is completed, the sculpture will be 563 feet high and 641 feet wide.

We took another ride and drove to Devils Tower National Monument in Northeast Wyoming but before we arrived we drove through the town of Hulett, yet another old west town.

Our trip to South Dakota is nearing its end as we will be heading to Colorado next.

Ely, Minnesota – An Up North Experience

We left the Upper Peninsula, drove through Wisconsin then on to Minnesota.  After driving very narrow and winding roads for who knows how long we finally arrived in Ely.   Everything is south of Ely.  You don’t to go to Ely unless 1) you live there 2) you are purposely going there.  You would never get lost and end up in Ely.   John came to this small town with his brother and other friends when they were just kids on a canoeing and camping expedition and had always talked about returning.  So when we arrived, I noticed that, albeit the town had obviously grown some, Ely gave the appearance of being just like the town on the tv series Northern Exposure.  It is just too darn cute, hilly with lots of log and wooden buildings.  While there, we visited Rockwood Cafe, a really cool restaurant where a band happened to be playing really fun music and where we met several people at the table across from us, some of who had lived in Ely for many years.  We met the producer for the local tv station who was sitting with Sven, a Swedish guy, who brought with him his alphorn.  The alphorn is an instrument I had never seen and it was by far the biggest horn ever.  It had beautifully hand painted decorations.  Sven suggested I try to blow the alphorn and it truly was a blast.  This instrument is really big in Sweden and must be amazing to hear as it echoes through the alps.  

We’ve been traveling with our friends, the Wests and the Waltmans and the big thing in Ely is to enjoy the wilderness experience.  While the girls stayed behind, the boys charted a guide and a small motorized boat and off fishing in the boundary waters they went.  They had to carry their boat over a couple of portages and that was pretty arduous for the old geezers, however, they were hoping for rewards at the end.

They caught just enough fish for a delicious shore lunch and some sides provided by the guide but had no luck catching anything worth bringing back, so back at the ranch we ended up having burgers in the evening.

What I later learned was that John was having chest pains radiating down his left arm since he underwent strenuous activity, the pain although managed with nitroglycerin pills, would just not go away.  We ended up leaving early the following day and drove to St. Cloud where he was seen and immediately taken in for a cardiac catherization.  After incredibly speedy medical care, he now has 4 cardiac stents, but most importantly he has now used up all of his 9 lives.

After recuperating from the procedure we continued our trip, however rather gingerly.  We are on our way to Sturgis, SD with stops at Wall and Mitchell.


Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

We left Traverse City and on to Cheboygen we went.  We purchased tickets to get on the ferry to Mackinac (silent “c”, pronounced Mackinaw) Island. 

Front row: Richard Waltman, me and Linda West
Back row: Bonnie Waltman, Walter West and John

Going to Mackinac Island was pretty exciting as it has a quaint, charming, historic and pre-automobile ambiance dating all the way back to 1898.  You need to travel either by foot power, either walking or peddling or you can choose to use horse-drawn carriages. 

The Waltmans and we opted to take our bicycles on the ferry and once docked right on Haldimand Bay, adjoined to Main Street.  Main Street is a bustling business district filled with hotels, restaurants, souvenir  stores and tons of fudge shops.  We rode our bikes to the Arch Rock and thought we could not make it, as the roads are pretty steep.  Once there, we were amazed at how pretty the views were.  Through the rock formation you may view the incredibly blue waters of the Straits of Mackinac.

We opted to ride the road around the island which is Highway M-185, the only state highway where cars are banned.  This road is eight miles in circumference and takes you past the Arch Rock and provides fabulous views of the Strait.

While driving around the island, one of the most striking visuals is how clean and clear the water was, albeit very cold.  Since we had not been in any body of water for a long time, so we opted to at least dip our toes on this one. 

Along the shoreline, we saw many cairns of various sizes.

When we completed our ride around the island, Bonnie and I  visited the Grand Hotel.

We had much fun here and it was time to leave and since there were many things left undone, we will return.

Bonnie and Rich and Linda and Walter joined us in our journey to Sault Saint Marie, (pronounced Soo St. Marie) so we could see huge vessels pass through the Soo locks.  This was an experience that cannot be seen anywhere else in the US.  I believe they are in the process of building yet another set of locks to accommodate even larger ships than they do now. 

This particular vessel has only inches on either side to pass through the lock.

When we got our fill of watching the locks and umpteen number of vessels, we continued on to Taquamenon Falls.

While at Tahquamenon Falls we hiked to the lower falls and then took a tour on the Toonerville Trolley, which is a train ride that took you to the Taq River where you would board a large double decker boat for a several hour trip up the river, viewing occasional wildlife, if lucky, to view the upper falls.  Unfortunately, when we arrived, the viewing platform was not functional and thus we were only able to see the falls from behind.  This was rather disappointing and had we been told, we certainly would have opted for a different adventure.  Oh well, lesson learned. 

We also drove to the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum in Whitefish Point.  We learned about the many ships that have sunk in the Great Lakes but especially about the mysterious shipwreck of SS Fitzgerald back in 1975.  Her 200 lb. brass bell was recovered and sits in the museum.

Back at the campsite however, each evening the mosquitoes anxiously awaited our return from our activities so they could have their dinner.  I have never seen more vicious creatures.  If they could organize, they could literally take us for a flight!

We continued our journey to Munising, home of Pictured Rocks.  We took the sunset tour on Lake Superior to see these rock formations and it totally gave us the wow factor.

We were taken into a cove.
Turned around and what a view!

While in Munising, we decided to visit Marquette.  The Marquette downtown area is very artsy.

Beautiful tree – real or fake?

St. Peter’s Cathedral

We visited Miner’s Falls

The Upper Peninsula is a very pretty place to visit.  What was most spectacular is the pristine waters of Lake Superior.  Next on our trip is Wisconsin.

Michigan – from Ann Arbor to Traverse City – What a Trip!

When we left Goshen we drove straight to Ann Arbor, MI.  We drove around town and went to see the University of Michigan’s football stadium.

Walking around downtown Ann Arbor we came across Graffiti Alley, which is the only place where street art is permitted.  It is an ever changing platform to established and emerging artists yearning to showcase their works of art.

We have very long time friends who live in West Bloomfield.  They own and run Sposita’s, a fabulous Italian Restaurant, so we stopped in for a long overdue visit and were joined by friend and co-worker, Gary Young and his friend, Shelly.  The meal was superb but the company was even better and it was fun to reminisce about stories of years past. 

Gary Young, Shelly, Lois Sposita, Joe Sposita and us.

While in the area, of course, we had to go to the Ford Museum and we could not forget Motown.  Ford Museum is huge and to fully appreciate it, you must allow at least one full day, that is not taking into account going to Greenfield Village.  Since we knew we did not have the full day, we opted to take a tour of only the museum so we could get a good sense of its collections.  The museum is not all about cars, as I had thought.  It is more about innovation and how it has allowed us to progress in history.  It is simply an amazing place!  Sadly, the assembly line had stopped operating only a few hours before we arrived, so next time we will have to better coordinate and to allow more time to revisit.

Lincoln’s chair:

What caught my eye, was that I was never exposed to this type of segregation and to actually see it displayed was thought provoking.

Below is the actual bus where Rosa Parks made her point.  Actually, she was seated on the right side in the middle between the front and the back, not the back of the bus as is commonly stated.

We had lunch at the snack bar of the Henry Ford, which is an old fashioned diner with jukeboxes at the tables.

We made a quick visit to Motown.

Took a quick drive through Detroit

and happened by GM’s corporate office:

We had a fun time in Detroit and will definitely return for more!  Our next stop was Muskegon, MI.  We enjoyed the drive over and found a beautiful campground in North Muskegon.  While in Goshen John went to a store where a mandolin was being demonstrated.  The sales person explicitly mentioned that the safety knob was to always be used otherwise to expect a trip to the emergency room.)  After setting up, John said he would fix dinner and wanted to use the mandolin to slice some potatoes so I went outside to set the table.  I heard him scream and immediately knew he had not used the safety knob.  Sure enough he had cut off the tip of his thumb so off to the emergency room we drove and there went the rest of our trip of the area.  We will have to return to see the western part of Michigan.

We made reservations at Traverse City and met up with six other couples. Bonnie and Rich Waltman, Linda and Walter West, Ann and Ron Parish, Linda and Tommy Sexton, Mary and Doug Sloan and Linda and Joe Shibalt, with whom we had recently spent time at the Goshen rally.  Also, we were happily surprised that as soon as we arrived our friends, Mary Frye and Rick Gnich, from Torrey Oaks, who happen to live in Traverse City, connected with us.  Two of the couples, Bonnie and Rich Waltman and Linda and Walter West (bless their hearts) decided to accompany us on our UP adventure.

While in Traverse City we drove to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, an incredible sweep of towering dunes on the western shore of Leelanau.  My friend Bonnie and I amazingly were able to climb only one of the dunes.  It happened to be the coldest day of our stay and also the windiest so while the rest of the crowd remained in their vehicles, up the dune we went – weenees.  Notice the tremendous slopes of Sleeping Bear Dunes and it turned out to be a tremendous workout.  No wonder people told us it would take us a few hours to climb the dunes.

We drove up to the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula all the way up to Northport and visited the Grand Traverse Lighthouse and Museum, stopped along the way at various spots, such as the villages of Glen Arbor and Leelanau and picked up some yummy fudge at Suttons Bay on our way back to Traverse City.

Grand Traverse Lighthouse


The following day we also drove to the northernmost point of the Old Mission Peninsula, referred to simply as the Peninsula by the locals, and on its tip is the Old Mission Lighthouse, which also happens to sit on the 45th parallel.  We stopped at the Old Mission General Store which originally was a fur trading post back in the 1840’s and now carries a bit of everything. 

The 114 foot Schooner Manitou cruises Grand Traverse Bay.

We had made plans to meet Mary and Rick at their beautiful home for a fabulous homemade breakfast made by Mary.  After we caught up, we left to visit yet another couple we befriended at Torrey Oaks, Edie and Steve Hindman, who are likewise traveling the country and happened to be in nearby Petoskey.  Wouldn’t you know, as luck has it, our truck broke down and again, we had to call Good Sam Roadside Assist and had to get towed to the nearest dealer, this time for a broken belt.  Unfortunately, because a part had to be ordered, we had no transportation for a few days and so we missed catching up with them.

The cherry trees were in bloom and the Annual National Cherry Festival in Traverse City was in full swing during our stay.  We visited Cherry Republic, a store where you could find from cherry wine to cherry pie and everything cherry in between (no joke).  On July 4th, also our 30th wedding anniversary, we went to a great airshow provided by the Thunderbirds on the shores of Traverse Bay and since John bought us a new Nikon camera, I began using it right away.  

This guy was actually standing on the plane.

After watching the airshow we returned to the campground and returned to the waterfront later that evening for a fireworks display.  All was going well until it was time for the finale and wouldn’t you know, the barge where the fireworks were being lit caught fire, so they had to end the show.  Fortunately, there were no injuries.

We had a wonderful time in Traverse City and will definitely return.