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  1. Default Southern California to North Dakota and back

    I have completed half of my road trip and now enroute home. I wish I could post trip notes in real time but I find writing on the road very difficult. I am sitting in this nice little cabin at the Buffalo Bill Village Resort in Cody, Wyoming

    Here are the National Park Service brochures I have collected so far

    I also visited other non-NPS places like driving to the top of Pikes Peak in Colorado. Here is a view of part of the road to the top. It rained and hailed on the way up

    More to come when and if I return home

    P.S. If you want to experience what the gold rush in California might have looked like in the 1800s, visit Williston, North Dakota. There is an oil boom happening right now and the area within 75 miles of the city is buzzing with activity. People, pickup trucks (modern day horses), service trucks (modern day wagons), and tanker rigs (modern day freight wagons) are clogging the roads and kicking up dust. The housing storage is so severe that they have established what they call "man-camps" for employee housing in tents, trailers, etc. Most of the reasonable priced hotels and motels in about a 75 mile radius are completely filled.

    On another note, Cody, Wyoming is also almost completely booked up. They tell me that many adults send their kids to school (apparently college-age kids) and then take off on vacation after labor day. The Holiday Inn is completely booked. I was one of the last to get a single cabin. The Comfort Inn next door only have rooms with double beds at a much higher cost.

  2. Default

    sounds like a great trip. we have been on the road for 12 days and know how filled the hotels are in some places. drive safely

  3. #3
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Southern California


    You missed our wonderful Southern California power outage last night. :-)

    Seriously, your photos are beautiful. I'm looking to check out the Pony Express and Mormon Trail NP's (or NM's) myself sometime in the future.


  4. Default September 1, 2011

    I left Los Angeles on August 31 at 8:00 pm and proceeded on I-15 to Barstow and then on I-40 to Albuquerque, New Mexico.

    September 1

    First stop was Petroglyph National Monument, located on the west side on Albuquerque. Ancient people have chipped figures and designs on rocks along the edge of volcanic lava flows. I have been here before and slogged through the sand along Rinconada Canyon. This time I visited Piedras Marcadas and Boca Negra Canyons. The macaw is not native to North America and shows that there was trade with people from Central America.

    The next stop was the Rattlesnake Museum, located in Old Town Albuquerque. I had no idea what to expect but was surprised and amazed by the large number of snakes on display in terrariums designed to look like their native environment.

    They also had other live reptiles and snake themed Indian artifacts, alcoholic beverages, and sports memorabilia.

    The Turquoise Museum is located in a mini-mall near the Rattlesnake Museum. They do not allow photographs inside so I only have a picture of the outside of the building.

    If you are interested in turquoise mining and lapidary in the western USA, this is a must see place. I knew that some minerals unique characteristics and experienced people can tell where a mineral sample originated. The Turquoise Museum has samples of native turquoise ore and jewelry from many turquoise mines/deposits and shows and explains the different characteristics.

    The next destination was the former building used by Bill Gates and Paul G. Allen when they founded Microsoft, Inc. The plaque says: ““Microsoft, Inc., founded at this site in 1975 – and headquartered in Albuquerque until 1979 – was established by Paul G. Allen and Bill Gates. The opportunity to write a version of BASIC for the MITS Altair drew them to the area and sparked their vision of “a computer on every desk and in every home.” That passion for innovative technology led to the development of Microsoft’s groundbreaking software. Paul Allen and Bill Gates would like to acknowledge the important role that the city of Albuquerque played in the company’s early development, offering an environment that stimulated creativity and encouraged entrepreneurial spirits.””

    The last stop in Albuquerque was the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History.

    This place has various sections with exhibits and descriptions of the history, technology, and science of nuclear energy and radiation. The museum covers subjects from nuclear medicine and atomic pop culture to atomic bombs payload delivery systems. I was impressed with the overall exhibits and the periodic table of the elements imbedded in the floor of the foyer.

    I left Albuquerque on I-25 and stopped at Pecos National Historical Park. This area is rich in history being on the route of the Santa Fe Trail and near the location of a Civil War battle (Glorieta Pass). Pecos Pueblos was an influential trading establishment before the Spanish arrived and built a mission complex. The remains seen here used to be part of the Pueblo with buildings 4 to 5 stories high.

    I spent the night near Raton, New Mexico

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    September 2, 2011

    The next morning I crossed over Raton Pass into Colorado and the city of Trinidad. Raton Pass was on the northern mountain route of the Santa Fe Trail. Downtown Trinidad has a Miners Memorial, dedicated to the miners that died working in the local coal mines.

    Next to the memorial is a large statue of a canary in a bird cage.

    I read that there are two statues of Kit Carson in Colorado and I decided to hunt them down to look at them. I drove over to Kit Carson Park to take a picture of the first statue

    One of Colorado’s Welcome Centers is located in Trinidad.

    They had a very comprehensive selection of tourist information and were happy for me to load up on brochures and pamphlets of places I plan to visit in the future.

    I stopped at Sierra Vista on the way to Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site. On a clear day the Spanish Peaks and the Sangre de Cristos Mountains, part of the Rocky Mountains can be seen from this location. Travelers on the Old Spanish Trail noted seeing the Rocky Mountains come into view after weeks of crossing the relatively flat Great Plains. On this day, the sky was too hazy to see the mountains.

    Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site looks as I imagined a fortified structure would look like from watching old movies.

    Bent’s Old Fort was not built for military purposes but as a commercial trading post. The fort is a reconstruction and is fully furnished. The staff wears period costumes.

    The next destination was Pike’s Peak. Road construction, rain, and some hail slowed down the traffic but I eventually reached the summit at 14,115 feet above sea level and it was pretty cold. An alternative to driving is to take the cog-wheeled train to the summit.

    After descending from Pikes Peak, I drove to Fort Carson Military Reservation, located southwest of Colorado Springs in search of another Kit Carson Statue. In a park outside of an entry gate, there are several military vehicles, a piece of the Twin Towers from New York, and the Kit Carson statue.

    As I left Fort Carson a thunderstorm dumped a torrent of rain and I sought cover in a motel.

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    September 3, 2011

    Early in the morning I drove up into the Rocky Mountains to the town of Cripple Creek. This town was founded after the discovery of gold in 1890. The adjacent town of Victor still has an operating gold mine. There was little surface (placer deposits) and most of the gold was mined by sinking deep mine shafts, drifts, and stopes to recover gold bearing ore.

    I arrived early enough to walk around town. Many of the buildings in town have been converted into casinos. I walked around until the Mollie Kathleen Gold Mine Tour opened

    The tour does not allowed electronic recording of the tour. They packed us into a lift and we traveled quickly 1,000 feet down into the mine. This is a model at the Pikes Peak Heritage center that shows the shaft that descends to the 1,000 feet level.

    This is an interesting tour and the guide pressurizes and briefly operates several pieces of pneumatic equipment so we could hear and feel the noise and violence that took place in the bowels of the earth. It is hard to imagine working in these conditions by the dim light of candles or carbide lamps.

    The Pikes Peak Heritage Center is located across the road from the Mollie Kathleen mine.

    The building was designed to represents the wooden buildings when the town of Cripple Creek first created (left), the more ornate and substantial brick buildings as the town matured (right) and a hard-rock gold mine entrance (center). The building has three levels and contains a variety of displays from a dinosaur skeleton to scale models of the gold mines.

    On the eastern end of Cripple Creek is the Cripple Creek District Museum. The museum is composed of a complex of buildings containing artifacts of the town when it was booming, a railroad car with tourist information, and a train ride. The buildings must have the squeakiest floors in the USA.

    Leaving Cripple Creek, I traveled up the road to Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. Florissant has several petrified redwood tree stumps and displays of some plant and insects fossils.

    On the northern edge of Colorado Springs is the Western Museum of Mining and Industry. From the description on their internet site, I was uncertain what I would find here. This place provides a good guided tour showing how gold is recovered from panning to hard rock mining. There are several large generators and pumps on display that they operate. If you want a more comprehensive understanding of mining, it would be beneficial to view the static displays in this museum and then see how some of the tools are operated on the Mollie Kathleen Mine tour.

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    September 4, 2011

    Early in the morning I arrived in Sidney, Nebraska to see the Pony Express Monument. The monument, dedicated to the route of the Pony Express in Nebraska, is located on the HQ property of Cabelas, a sporting goods company.

    The monument was not as impressive as I expected however there is a flat rock in the center that is probably the base for a future statue. I also wanted to visit Cabelas but they do not open until 10:00 am on Sunday.

    As a got closer to my next destination, Chimney Rock, there are signs posted that I was following the general route of the Pony Express National Historic Trail,
    Oregon Trail National Historic Trail, Mormon Pioneer Trail National Historic Trail, and California Pioneer National Historic Trail.

    Chimney Rock National Historic Site preserves one of the most notable landmarks recorded in emigrant diaries and journals.

    Scotts Bluff National Monument preserves another landmark along the pioneer trails. There is a road built to the top of Scotts Bluff and short trails to view point on the North Platte River.

    I crossed into Wyoming to Fort Laramie National Historic Site which was originally built in 1834 as a trading post for Buffalo hides from the Indian tribes. In 1849 the U.S. Army bought the property and renamed it Fort Laramie. The fort was the primarily hub for transportation and communication through the central Rocky Mountains region as emigrant trails, stage lines, the Pony Express, and the transcontinental telegraph all passed through the fort.

    Northwest of Fort Laramie near the town of Guernsey, WY are two features of the emigrant trial. The Oregon Trail Wagon Ruts where rock was hacked away and wagon wheels ground ruts in the rock,

    and Register Cliffs where the emigrants carved their names in the cliff.

    While I was at Scotts Bluff, I overheard that Agate Fossil Beds National Monument would be open to 6:00 pm so I drove back into Nebraska and arrived at Agate Fossil Beds at 5:15 pm. I wanted to see the fossil burrows of an animal called Palaeocastor. This dry-land beaver type animal dug spiral burrows that were called “Devil’s corkscrews.”

    Leaving Agate Fossil Beds the sun was setting and I gave up the idea of camping at Toadstool Geologic Park.

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    September 5, 2011

    I stayed overnight in Harrison, NE and the next day drove on the gravel road to Toadstool Geologic Park. This is typical badlands type formation with soft soil that is easy to erode. The name toadstools refer to more resistant cap rocks protecting softer sediments, forming a mushroom shape.

    Here is a “nursery” where toadstools are eroding out of the rock.

    I followed the gravel road north into South Dakota to Hot Springs and the Mammoth Site. The Mammoth Site was created when a large sinkhole trapped many mammoths other the years and their bones accumulated were buried with sediment. The mammoth site is now covered by a structure that protects the excavation and houses displays

    I then headed on Highway 79 and then I-90 to one of the classic road trip stops, Wall Drug Store. There are billboards along the I-90 advertising Wall Drugs well before you arrive. This place is known for numerous shops selling kitschy stuff to tourist. It was crowded.

    I could not leave without taking a picture of the free ice-cold water and the jackalope. I did not see the 5 cents cup of coffee promoted on the bill boards

    Just east of Wall is one of the Minuteman Missile sites near Exit 116. The contact center for the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site is further east at Exit 131. Tours are provided but they are on a first come first serve basis. I took the tour of the missile site south of Tucson, Arizona so I did not need take this tour. The surface features and the top of the missile can be viewed without taking the tour.

    I arrived at the northeast entrance to Badlands National Park at 3:30 pm and visited the Ben Reifel visitor center, walked some of the trails, and got a campsite

    The Rangers gave a great astronomy presentation that night at the amphitheater near the campground.

  9. Default

    September 6, 2011

    The next morning I drove the Badlands Loop Road and exited Badlands National Park via the Pinnacles entrance near the city of Wall.

    I drove back to Wall to visit the National Grasslands Visitor Center. They had some good exhibits of the plants and animals found in the area.

    Back on I-90 heading west, I stopped in Rapid City to visit the South Dakota Museum of Geology. However, I could not find a vacant visitor parking space. Fortunately, as I was exiting I-90, I saw a sign to the Black Hills Visitor Center and a Cabelas. I visited the Black Hills Visitor Center and found it to be a well organized visitor center for planning trips in the area.

    Since I missed the Cabelas in Sidney, NE, I took the opportunity to visit the Rapid City Cabelas. I wasn’t disappointed. The stuffed animals and aquarium of live fish was impressive, along with their vast selection of sporting goods.

    A short time later I was in the town of Lead (pronounced “Leed”) to take the Homestake Mine tour. I arrived too late in the season a couple of years ago missed this tour. The bus tour was less than I expected. The guide pointed out some of the historic buildings as the bus traveled through town to the Homestake Mine. The mine is no longer operating but is being used by Sanford Laboratories to conduct experiments. We got to see the large hoist used to raise and lower the lift over 4,800 feet.

    Done the street from the Homestake Mine Tour is the Black Hills Mining Museum.
    The main floor of the museum contains a hodge-podge collection of artifacts. In the basement, there is a simulated mine built by miners that worked at the Homestake mine. The displays appear technically accurate but the use of gunite (sprayed concrete) and smooth concrete floor takes away a lot of the realism.

    I left Lead and headed for Belle Fourche and the Center of the National Visitor Center and Tri-State Museum. The women at the Center and in the Museum were very helpful in directing me to the location of the actual center of the nation. They have a pamphlet that gives great directions. At the time of my visit, someone had affixed a flag on the post to mark the spot.

    From Belle Fourche I headed due north and entered North Dakota.

  10. Default

    September 7, 2011

    Early in the morning I arrived at the Painted Canyon Visitor Center - Rest Area to wait for dawn. I wanted to see the view described by John Steinbeck in “From Travels With Charley" (1961): “And then the late afternoon changed everything. As the sun angled, the buttes and coulees, the cliffs and sculptured hills and ravines lost their burned and dreadful look and glowed with yellow and rich browns and a hundred variations of red and silver gray, all picked out by streaks of coal black. It was so beautiful that I stopped near a thicket of dwarfed and wind-warped cedars and junipers, and once stopped I was caught, trapped in color and dazzled by the clarity of the light … I can easily see how people are driven back t the Badlands.”

    After admiring the view, I drove to the South Unit Medora Visitor Center, which was still closed, and proceeded to drive the 36-mile Scenic Route Drive. I stopped to look at the prairie dog towns and was stopped three times by bison and wild horses on the road.

    Leaving the park, I took I-94 east and then hwy 31 north to Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site. I also intercepted the Lewis and Clark Trail National Historic Trail. Knife River preserves Indian sites that exited when Lewis and Clark passed through. The primary surface features are the circular mounds from the collapsed lodges.

    There is a recreated furnished lodge on display to show how the space in side the lodge was utilized

    When the Ranger heard I was going to Fort Union Trading Post, she warned me that there is a lot of road construction going on and that the oil boom in the Williston area has created a housing storage. I did encounter road construction delays and finally arrived at Williston which looked like a scene from the Road Warrior movies. Large muddy vehicles, dust in the air, flare stations burning methane gas, and a hectic atmosphere. I stopped for gas at the same time a bus arrived and a group of oil field workers poured out. They grabbed and paid for food and drinks and jumped back into the bus, apparently to be transported to “man-camps.”

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