Although we haven’t encountered much snow since we’ve retired, it always seems as though summer flies by and this summer has been no exception. After arriving back in the States in late May we first caught up with our DC family. We had a very short time with them but were thrilled when our son asked if we could drop the three off at their schools in the morning. First, we took the two girls to their elementary school, and then we were amazed as our three year old grandson directed us to his daycare more than a mile away. Ever the proud grandparents!
After ensuring all were safe in their academic environments, we began our road trip to Michigan with our youngest son who lives in DC and our daughter who flew in from Rome to attend her niece’s high school graduation. DC to Michigan is quite a trek but we sure enjoyed the trip back in time to other roadtrips we had taken when they were just kids. Seems like yesterday! How could it be possible our oldest granddaughter was getting ready to head to college!
Graduation weekend in Big Rapids passed quickly and we soon found ourselves at breakfast saying “good bye” and “see you soon.” We then dropped Cary and Patrick off at the Grand Rapids airport to fly back to their respective homes feeling very lucky that we had been able to have even this short time together.
It was now time for us to start on our cross country road trip from Michigan to Seattle where my sister has some health issues and we needed to help out.
Bob and I have made the trek from Michigan to the west coast on many occasions over the past several decades camping in our popup when the kids were little. This time we chose the route along I90 because we thought there was a lot more to see instead of taking I94 through North Dakota. But even with more sights, we chose this time to only stop at those places that scream, “YOU GOTTA STOP HERE AGAIN!” The first of these was the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota. The Corn Palace was built in 1892. Now more than half a million tourists visit it every year. The thing that strikes us as the most amazing is that it’s redecorated with a different theme every year. Because we had been through it twice before we didn’t feel compelled to tour again but we did have to stop and snap a few shots of the outside.
From the Corn Palace, it was on to the Badlands. Upon seeing it in 1985, our oldest son, then ten, made the comment that it was like walking on the moon. It really is different and beautiful in a very unusual way. When we visited Mt St Helens in 2014 we bought a lifetime park pass to the national parks. So it cost us nothing to take the drive winding through Badlands National Park. What a deal!
Our next stop was Wall Drug. Wall Drug began in 1931 started by a pharmacist and his wife, a school teacher, who were looking for ways to make their drug store in a lonely place profitable. It was the signs they posted along the highway advertising “free ice water” that brought them success and put them on the map. I remember my parents talking about Wall Drug and how we had stopped there in 1948 on our way back from the west coast. I feel certain they wouldn’t recognize the Wall Drug of today. We began seeing signs for it hundreds of miles before we actually got there. Of course we had to buy our own tourist memorabilia proving that we too had actually been there.
Next on the itinerary was Mount Rushmore National Park. Again, this is probably the sixth or seventh time we’ve been there but it never fails to take my breath away. Borghlan’s carvings are amazing. And the flags and archways add to its beauty.
And this time as we were leaving we came upon a view of Washington’s profile we’d never seen before!
The Crazy Horse Memorial was new for us. And we were so glad that we made the stop. The monument is not complete but there was so much history to take in.
Crazy Horse was a Lakota leader of the Oglala branch of the Sioux. We arrived just in time to see the Sioux dancers perform. It was wonderful!
We were surprised as we continued west on I90 that heavy snow was predicted in the mountains just west of Billings. We were looking forward to the mountainous part of the drive but wanted to enjoy the views and not get bogged down in a snowstorm so we decided to stop early and spend the night in Billings. (Also, a good time to get a hair cut and do the laundry!) The next day the drive lived up to our expectations.
Montana is an incredibly wide state, more than 500 miles to cross, but the 80 mph speed limit makes it seem shorter.
We continued across the Gallatin and Bridger Mountains over Bozeman pass and just east of Butte we crossed the Continental Divide. The views of the valleys were just as enjoyable as those of the mountains. I90 brought us into Seattle through the Cascade Range crossing over Snoqualmie Pass. Even merging into Seattle’s infamous traffic couldn’t diminish the beauty!
My sister’s home is located with a view of Puget Sound with the Olympic Mountains right as a backdrop. The Sound has a constant traffic of fishing boats, freighters, pleasure boats, ferries, and cruise ships.
We even saw a submarine move up the Sound one morning. (I later learned that each sub is the 4th biggest nuclear power in the world. Perhaps if I’d known that at the time I wouldn’t have been so excited to see it!)
After several weeks in Seattle, we had a reservation for two weeks at an Airbnb in Coquitlam, British Columbia, just outside the city of Vancouver. It was perfect. The owners lived upstairs which we always find is a plus. The host greeted us and proceeded to show us the details of the suite, as she called it. As she was about to leave, she asked us to let her know when we needed to dispose of our garbage. It seems that there are a lot of bears who visit the area. I suppose it would be more correct to explain that this is a new subdivision that was built in an area where a lot of bears made their home. So the bears take advantage of the new food sources. She told us how smart they are, how they maneuver locks on sheds, shake car handles to gain entry. There was even a brochure in the apartment, published by the town of Coquitlam, entitled, “Bear Aware!”
While we were always on the lookout, we never saw a bear. (We were told they were most often seen at daybreak which occurs about 5 am and way before our rising time!) But we did enjoy the location and the ease with which we could get in and out of Vancouver. We found the traffic of Vancouver far more manageable than had been the case in Seattle.
We had a couple of favorite stops, the first was Stanley Park. It’s the third largest park in North America and borders on the edge of downtown Vancouver.
It was about a 40 minute drive from our apartment. Stanley Park is largely surrounded by water with beautiful views everywhere we looked. The Totem Poles, perhaps my favorite stop in the park, are the most visited tourist site in British Columbia. The first totems date from the 1920’s.
Most of today’s are new ones commissioned by the Park Board. Many of the originals were sent to museums for preservation. Nearby we found the statue of Portuguese Joe, who lived in the 1860’s. He was born in Portugal, and then lived in what is now Stanley Park where he was a whaler, fisherman and saloon keeper. The statue, the newest sculpture in the park, marks the connection of Europe and First Nation peoples. It was created by Portugal Joe’s great grandson, Luke Marston.
We also spent an enjoyable afternoon at the Vancouver Aquarium located in Stanley Park. This is a major research center for marine life. We got there just in time to see them feeding the otters, which next to Penguins are my favorite animals. It’s not a large place but very well-maintained if a bit on the pricey side.
Another afternoon we drove to Queen Elizabeth Park, which is the highest point in Vancouver.
We had come to the park to spend the afternoon at Bloedel Conservatory. Again we were provided spectacular views as we walked from the car. The conservatory gardens are filled with exotic, plants, flowers and birds.
While the conservatory isn’t large we spent nearly two hours there fascinated by the birds!
Our host suggested a beautiful drive north up the coast toward Whisler which took us to Shannon Falls. Again another bear warning. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the precautionary signs indicating when a bear was last seen in the area.
Vancouver is a great place for short day trips and after the busy, taxing weeks we had just spent in Seattle, we had come to Vancouver for a place to read, relax and renew. What a great choice it was!
The northwest is lovely; the scenery beyond belief. The people wonderful, but I truly feel far more at home on the east coast than the west. I think it must have to do with what you get used to. Funny time zone differences don’t bother me in Europe, but really have difficulty adjusting to them in the US.
We decided to drive back east through Canada. The first town we came to was Hope, BC, a small town surrounded by high mountains. But further east was what I was looking forward to! We had never driven the Ice Fields Parkway and it was at the top of my list of “Things I Want to See.” Several websites list it as one of the top drives in the world. It’s about 9 hours drive east of Vancouver and on the way the Trans Canada Highway took us through 3 national parks: Mt. Revelstoke, Glacier (not to be confused with Glacier National Park, US) and Yoho before arriving in Banff.
The Canadian Rockies are particularly pretty because they are usually snowcapped! Towns along the way are few and far between. But their populations are surprisingly larger than we anticipated. The Icefields Parkway connects Banff with Jasper. The highway is lined with turquoise lakes, glaciers and spectacular mountain views. (The Columbia Icefield alone has 6 glaciers.)
The weather had turned gray and cooler so we optimistically thought we might see some wildlife, but no luck! No moose, no bear or no sheep, not one! We had checked long in advance about staying in Banff but the cheapest room was $350. So we decided to drive further east to Calgary which meant saying goodbye to the mountains and entering the plains.
The Canadian have such descriptive names for their towns. We stopped in Swift Curren, to visit the Saskatchewan Hockey Hall of Fame. (We even saw a sign for Michigan, Saskatchewan! Who knew?) Then on to Moose Jaw!
Crossing the plains in Canada we saw a lot of yellow rapeseed fields similar to those we had seen in Italy. We learned that this rapeseed is different and is used in the making of canola oil, a leading product of Canda.
When we came to Brandon, Manitoba, we cut south to North Dakota passing through the International Peace Garden at the border. The park was established in 1932 and contains a lovely floral clock as well as a peace chapel with chime that straddles the border between the two countries.
Further south in North Dakota, we came to Rugby, North Dakota, which is the geographical center of North America. We definitely needed to have a picture of that!
In Grand Forks we wanted to check out the Ralph Engelstad Hockey Arena, the home of the North Dakota Fighting Hawks, formerly the Fighting Sioux. Many have called this facility the Taj Mahal of hockey.
It has granite floors, cherry wood seats with leather upholstery. And six months ago they added a six million dollar scoreboard. And to cap it off there is a huge statue of Crazy Horse in front of the arena. It appeared to be closed when we got there, but a woman in the pro shop said of course she could give us a brief tour. What a sight to behold!
About an hour from Grand Forks we came to Fargo. Folks at the hotel where we were staying told us there was an airshow. And while it had a hefty entry charge, we, along with many others, drove out to the campus of North Dakota State where we had a great view!
I don’t usually think of North Dakota as a particularly interesting place to visit but we sure enjoyed our drive through the state. We now were headed to Michigan City, Indiana, just an hour east of Chicago, to a place just a few blocks from the beautiful Lake MIchigan beaches, a place we’ll call home for the next couple of months.