Day 36

Thursday, June 30, 2005Belvidere, SD
Miles: 4297Westwarder, we say!
In the west, the sky is striated, magenta on the bottom, a yellowish pink in the middle and pale blue darkening to purplish blue. Dead trees stand silhouetted, spindly and black against the sky. In the east, cars and trucks roll by unheard on the highway a few miles away. They look like they’re driving on the pearlescent blue of the sky. A reproduction 1880’s village, no doubt extremely touristy and cheesy during the day, is picturesque in the dusky light. It is flat, the sky goes on forever. Sitting in front of a campfire in the cold (It is very cold here at night. I’m wearing two fleeces, a flannel shirt and a scarf.) I feel like a cowboy. Well, I feel like a cowboy if I don’t look at the van or turn around and look at the rest of the campground. If I lived here, I’d never get anything done. I’m too busy looking at everything. It was good that Keath drove, or we would have been off the side of the road.

Today Keath worked a full day from the campground in Mitchell, and then we took off for Pierre, we thought. Pierre is about sixty miles from the Badlands, which is where we plan to end up tomorrow night. As we drove tough, we decided to go to Belvidere instead, which is about thirty miles closer to the Badlands. The CD’s we got telling us about South Dakota told us that when we crossed the Missouri river, the landscape would change. We didn’t realize it would be so abrupt. We stopped at the Welcome Center (200 miles into the State) and took some great pictures of the river and the hills beyond. When we crossed the river, we saw that he was right. The farms were gone, replaced by cattle ranches. The hills, covered in grasses of all different colors and dotted with knots of cattle here and there. The sky was huge, blue with puffy, low white clouds that cast shadows on the hills beneath. We understood how alone the first white folks felt when they were here, but it’s so beautiful, even if it is extremely vast and lonely.

Most of our day was the drive, but we did stop at the AutoPalace, a huge collection of antique cars. There were over 300, from a 1903 Runabout to a 1920’s motorhome and a collection of muscle cars. It was impressive, if a little overwhelming.

We finished our drive to Belvidere, settled in on the plains and marveled at the surrealness of the scenery. We thought about swimming, but decided to use the extreme windiness for something else: kite flying. It was almost too easy to fly the kite, and we eventually brought it down and had dinner. We’re camping in the tent tonight, and Ceridwen will probably be sleeping in several layers. It feels nice not to be hot and sticky, even though it is rather cold.

Day 35

Wednesday, June 29, 2005Mitchell, SD
Miles: 4121Go west, young Lewins
Last night, we discovered that the Big Sioux Recreation area is right next to a dirt track. And Tuesday is apparently race night. The annoyance of being serenaded by the sounds of dozens of engines and the voices of the announcers was made up for in one moment. Across the darkened prairie, we heard a familiar strain of synthesized music. We looked at each other. Was it really? Really Europe? The Final Countdown? It was. Oh yes indeedy. For those of you too old (or, alarmingly, too young) to know of Europe, they were a bad band that rode the Hair Metal gravy train for awhile in the mid to late 80’s. Ceridwen hates to admit it, but at the age of 11, she owned a Europe T-shirt. It was sweet. Black with a blue silk screen of some long haired guys with bad perms. Ah, the 80’s.

But enough about times gone by. Today was a full day in and of itself and involved no perms or spandex. Our first stop was in Garretson, the scene of a daring escape of Jesse James from a posse of Minnesota Lawmen. Devil’s Gulch itself is a twenty foot expanse over Split Rock Creek. Legend has it, Jesse (or more accurately, his horse) jumped the gulch, leaving the lawmen on the other side. They all had families to go home to and chose not to follow the outlaw. Now there’s a bridge over it and you can walk like normal people. The gulch, like much of the rest of the area, is made of jasper. Today we discovered just how fun it is to climb around on jasper. But more on that later. The actual gulch was the least exciting part of the area. Locals have made a nature trail through the area that highlights some other interesting features and give out a guide that details how the gulch formed, other legends involving the area and the Native American perspective.. Keath bought his first tourist shirt, since this supported a local organization, rather than a tourist trap. Look for it in future photos. It’s hard to miss, given that it is bright yellow. We walked along the nature trail, and once off of it, and discovered the Devil’s Staircase, which led to the Devil’s kitchen, a gully about 30 feet deep, There was also a waterfall that we played in for awhile, wetting our appetite for rock jumping.

We ate lunch at Split Rock Park. We were told that there were pontoon boat rides to the cave Jesse James hid out in before making his famous leap, but as we pulled up, the boat was leaving. We ate lunch there, enjoying the pretty view, then went into the Visitor Center. We found out why the boat was leaving: there was a tornado watch in effect for all of Eastern SD, and parts of MN, ND and IA. It seemed like a good time to head West, but first we decided to check out Palisades State Park, which has the Balancing Rock. We had seen a picture of it at the Devil’s Gulch Visitor’s Center and decided we had to check it out.

Balancing Rock was only the beginning. We hiked down a nicely mowed grass path that followed Split Rock Creek and came upon Balancing Rock. It was really cool, all made out of jasper. After climbing on Balancing Rock, we climbed on some unnamed formations. There were some people roped in and doing some real climbing on the other side of the creek, so we headed over there. On the other side of the creek we found King and Queen rock, two big columns of jasper that jut out into the water. We climbed to the top of Queen, angering some people who were apparently safety Nazis. We had a lot of fun climbing around and finding cool views. Jasper is very easy to climb because it naturally ledges and little cracks for you to hold on to. Very convenient. Sweaty and tired, we got back in the van and headed for Mitchell, SD, home of the world’s only Corn Palace. What’s a Corn Palace, you may ask yourself, much as John Phillips Sousa did nearly 80 years ago. We’ll get to that later. First, let us tell you about the wonders of the Ghost Town that wasn’t.

We saw signs for an old West town and decided on the spur of the moment to check it out. We were also enticed by the claims of a Bison herd and a convenience store with coffee and energy drinks. The store was run by an old man who liked to talk about the old west town. He told us all about it before we went in, to make sure we didn’t miss anything. He told us there were two ghosts, one of them the ghost of the only horse to survive Little Big Horn. We walked through the town, stopping to take pictures of the Bison. Bison get very threatening when their babies are around. We took one photo before they circled around the babies and turned to us en masse. Half ton animals with horns are not the best things to make angry, so we went on our way.

The rest of the town was pretty silly. It was reconstructed buildings with moving mannequins and speakerboxes. The voice of the old man at the store told us all about the Indian rituals, all about wash day for the pioneers and about a few other things we didn’t really pay attention to. The best part was really the ghost horse, which was a wooden cutout of a horse viewed through a hole in the stable wall. The old man’s voice came out over the speaker, telling us he was the ghost of Camanche, the last surviving horse of Little Big Horn. We looked at the rest of the town, marveling at how much fun the man must have dressing up his mannequins and making his recordings. The second ghost was a garden gnome at the bottom of a ‘mine shaft’ bathed in eerie yellow light. Spooky.

After this side trip, we continued to Mitchell, where we checked into our campsite and then went to see the prehistoric Indian site. This is a very cool museum that has an archaeological dig in a big dome. The whole thing is called the Archeaodome. It was cool to be able to get that close to a real dig site. There were piles of bison bones that they had dug up, pieces of pottery and explanations of stratigraphy. Even the lab was open, and they invited visitors to help them clean off artifacts with toothbrushes.

Back in the main museum, there was a model of an earthen home, complete with bison hide and some artifacts. When I see these things, I can’t help but be very glad I was born where and when I was.

We went from very untouristy to very touristy. The Mitchell Corn Palace was first constructed to display the South Dakota corn harvest. Ears of corn were cut in half and then nailed to the walls of a building, carefully laid out to create murals. This year’s theme was life on the farm. There’s really not too much more to say about this. Corn is now bred and grown specifically to be used in the construction of the corn Palace. There are eleven different colors available for the artist. It’s all pretty cool really. We gawked, then had dinner.

Our campsire was right next to the railroad tracks, which wasn’t a problem until about three am, when a train that had stopped started moving again. Rather than letting off the brakes all at once, it took fifteen mintues of horrid squealing to get going again. Ugh.

Day 34

Tuesday, June 28, 2005Brandon, SD
Miles: 4002Sioux Falls is pink, pink I say!
Today we woke up at the Super 8 and partook of the continental breakfast. This was quite possibly the worst continental breakfast we’ve ever seen. White bread for toast, coffee, little plastic cups of apple juice and some sad looking, half sized donuts. It was sad. But we ate it anyway and took some extra jelly packets for our lunches. It is an exciting day when we get PB AND J. After breakfast we did some accounting work, decided we still had enough money and headed out to see Sioux Falls.

While we were packing up the van, we smelled the wondrous odor of curry as it wafted from the Indian buffet next to the hotel. We couldn’t resist. And it was a good thing we didn’t. While we waited the half hour for the Indian buffet to start, we remembered that we had wanted to go to AAA for some more maps. To kill the half hour, we got our maps, plus some guidebooks and some good advice from the kind people of the greater Sioux Falls AAA.

Then we had lunch. Yum.

Our first stop in Sioux Falls was the Falls Park. Oddly enough, this park displays the falls for which the town was named. They were very pretty, partly because they were pink. The rock that the river runs over is jasper or pink quartzite. This is harder than granite and almost as hard as diamond. Because of its hardness, it stands up well to erosion and the falls are in the same place they were 10,000 years ago. By contrast, the force of Niagara Falls has eroded the rock a couple of miles in the same amount of time. Granted, there’s more water, but you get the idea.

When Sioux Falls was first founded, the downtown area was connected to the Falls. There were mills along the water, and shops and people lived there and recreated there. In recent years, however, the arrival of a train yard and some seediness has separated the two. In an attempt to reconnect them, the city has started providing free trolley rides between the downtown area and Falls Park. We took advantage of this and took the trolley to the old Courthouse, which is made entirely of pink quartzite. It was a very pretty building and had some very interesting exhibits inside.

The exhibits were interesting but too involved to go into much detail about here. One illustrated the first explorers’ routes through the state and told the stories of their meetings with the Dakota tribes. Another was an interactive exhibit detailing how South Dakota was settled by the Europeans. Upstairs was an interesting exhibit about the history of toilets. Want to know why the moon is the symbol most frequently seen on outhouse doors? We can tell you. Want to know what peoples of the world use to wipe their bums? We know. (Sand, anyone?)

After our informative time at the old Courthouse, we took the rest of the tour around Sioux Falls. Since we don’t do much shopping, and our budget is limited for eating out, we did not exit the trolley, though there was some cool sculpture to look at while we rode.

Back at the van, we were both feeling a little sleepy. So rather than go out to Garretson and Devil’s Gulch, we decided to go to Wild Water West, a water park out in the middle of the farmland. We had a lot of fun sliding and splashing. Ceridwen got so good at speeding herself up on one of the slides that she almost managed to fling herself over the sides. She also bruised one hip. Such is the price of watery fun.

By the time we finished at the water park, it was time for dinner. Having had Indian for lunch, we settled for PB & J for dinner. But there would be s’mores later. We settled into our campsite and munched on nummy s’mores. We did have to make a run out to buy fire wood, since being a prairie, there wasn’t much of it lying around the site. There are trees, but they were planted here when the campground was put in a few years ago and they haven’t dropped many branches yet.

On our way back from the Great Plains Firewood Run of '05, we pulled off to the Brandon, SD scenic outlook, just as the odometer quietly announced "Hey! You're 4000 miles from Concord!" So we posed for a silly photo.

Day 33

Monday, June 27, 2005Sioux Falls, SD
Miles: 3954The Land of Pop and Sacks
Sorry we haven’t updated in a few days. We’ve been busy with the Iowa nightlife. But all that is behind us now, as today we broke new ground and headed into the wilds of South Dakota. Despite the fact that St. Louis has the Arch, or the official gateway into the West, and the fact that a lot of Iowa has westward expansion history attached to it, South Dakota feels like the beginning of the Wild West.

But first we had to leave Iowa. We packed up our campsite and went for a short hike around Ledges State Park. We particularly wanted to check out the ledges, oddly enough. These are sandstone walls created by the Pea’s Creek and are now a home for birds. The road there was washed out, at least according to the signs. When we got down there, we discovered that only a low rider Escort would have a problem with the few inches of water, but whatever. The signs and maps of this park were an Eagle Scout project waiting to happen. The trail map we had made no sense and we felt no sense of security when going hiking. In fact, several times we worried that we were going to wind up lost in the wilds of Iowa.

After our hike we booked it to the Loess Hills region of Iowa, which is right along the Iowa/Nebraska border. The creation of the Hills went something like this: Although early geologists assumed loess was either fluvial (deposited by a river) or lacustrine (formed in a lake), today we know that loess was eolian (deposited by the wind). During the Ice Age, glaciers advanced down into the mid-continent of North America, grinding underlying rock into a fine powderlike sediment called "glacial flour." As temperatures warmed, the glaciers melted and enormous amounts of water and sediment rushed down the Missouri River valley. The sediment was eventually deposited on flood plains downstream, creating huge mud flats.

During the winters the meltwaters would recede, leaving the mud flats exposed. As they dried, fine-grained mud material called silt was picked up and carried by strong winds. These large dust clouds were moved eastward by prevailing westerly winds and were redeposited over broad areas. Heavier, coarser silt, deposited closest to its Missouri River flood plain source, formed sharp, high bluffs on the western margin of the Loess Hills. Finer, lighter silt, deposited farther east, created gently sloping hills on the eastern margin. This process repeated for thousands of years, building layer upon layer until the loess reached thicknesses of 60 feet or more and became the dominant feature of the terrain. (Consider this your footnote:

There are some neat forested areas, as well as some steeply planted corn. It’s a very pretty area, and our pictures don’t really do it justice, as they don’t capture the vastness of the landscape or the abruptness of the hills.

We popped out of the Loess Hills in Sioux City, IA and continued our way to Sioux Falls. The South Dakota Visitor’s Center has a very clever way of providing its patrons with history lessons: they rent sets of 4 CD’s that provide narration of points of interest along the two major highways in the state. We rented a set and continued North. We listened to some of the history as we drove North on Interstate 29, and though we never stopped at any of them, we did decide that tomorrow we would go to Garreson, SD, where Jesse James allegedly made a daring escape after a bank robbery.

Once in Sioux Falls, we decided to rent a hotel room for the night to take advantage of some air conditioning and some free WiFi internet. So we could update our blog. Like this. See?

Correction Samuel Clemens did indeed get his pen name from the steamship term for "safe waters," but the term "Mark" does not mean ten. We swore it was written down like that somewhere in the museum, but the correct etymology was also written down: Mark apparently refers simply to the depth mark. Twain does indeed mean two. And twelve feet is indeed safe passage for a steamboat. However, the reference was to two fathoms, where one fathom is six feet. And now you know.

Day 32

Sunday, June 26, 2005Boone, IA
Miles: 3684Nope, not named for Daniel Boone
We packed up an extremely disgustingly buggy tent. Ceridwen turned in to a girly girl and ran around the campsite screaming while Keath flicked a entymologist's dream sample off of the sleeping accomodations. After thoroughly de-bugging ourselves and our belongings, we headed for Ames, Iowa, home of Iowa State University.

Once in Ames, we went to Reiman Gardens, right next to the football stadium for some reason. There we looked at some pretty flowers and some pretty butterflies (in quantities to put the Tenessee Aquarium to shame), listened to some pretty music, and ate some yummy ice cream. All in all, it was a pleasant Sunday afternoon.

But it was not over yet. We had a train to catch. In Boone. Boone boasts the last commercially produced steam engine in the world. Boone is home to the The Iowa Railroad Historical Society which acquires and maintains trains, train parts, train buildings, and train memorabilia with ties to Iowa history. We rode an Electric Trolly built in 1915 and took a ride on the Boone and Scenic Valley Railroad, which was being pulled today by the aforementioned steam engine. (Which means we got good and dirty as the soot blew in our glassless windows.) Our Conductor/Tour Guide deputized us as Scenic Railway marketing agents, so if you are ever in Central Iowa, be sure to take a ride! Or, just leave all your money to them in your will. They like that.

After our train returned to the depot, we headed for the local state park: Ledges State Park. We saw no ledges, but saw a nice campsite and some showers which looked like they might just get some soot off of us...

(By the way, Boone was named for Colonel Nathan Boone, Daniel's son.)

Day 31

Saturday, June 25, 2005Des Moines, IA
Miles: 3579More Art!
After sauntering out of bed around 11, we showered and decided to check out the art show in our own back yard, our back yard being the Iowa State Fairgrounds. This one had less of a carnival atmosphere and more exorbinant prices, but it also had air conditioning. We watched a glass blower demonstrate his craft and enjoyed assorted and sundry displays of art.

We then headed on to the state Capitol Building since it has a shiny gold dome and we realized that Des Moines is the first state capital we had been in since leaving Concord. We marvelled at the seating for Iowa's puny Congress (less than 200 people? How?!) and admired the building's cool statuary, murals, architecture, and decor. There were also several memorials around the grounds, including one for Iowans who died at Pearl Harbor (and in WWII in general), those who fought in the War of the Rebellion, a Peace Officer Memorial, a replica of the Statue of Liberty presented by the Boy Scouts, and of course the requisite floating head of Christopher Columbus. Iowa has a lot of flat, open land, and apparently every inch of it must contain either corn or statuary.

After thoroughly admiring the capitol area, we headed out to the Des Moines Art Center. We sang karaoke in front of a video collage and studied Christian Jankowski's art. Most of his work is video/film based; some of it was cool and some of it was just artsy. We didn't have long there since they closed at 4:00 and we only started our day a few hours earlier. Supposedly there was some more traditional art but we were not permitted to see it due to that whole closing the museum thing.

Since we were halfway there already, we headed out of Des Moines to a town called Jordan Creek since the local city paper indicated that there would be an orchestral ensemble playing by the creek at 6:00. This "town" turned out to be a condo-farm; the "town center" was a huge mall (owned by the same company, we believe); the "creek " was a man-made pond with some fountains in it. Even so, it seemed pleasant enough, until the orchestra was running late and the Iowa sun decided it should increase its heat before setting. As we strolled around for a bit, we noticed that the orchestra, in fitting with the theme for the evening, was actually a duet, so we bagged the whole heat stroke music idea and settled in for night two of the Lewin/Des Moines Michael Caine Film Festival. (We watched Bewitched.)

After the movie, we headed back in to town and caught up with the Art Festival in time for the evening's fireworks. The banks of the river made for plenty of clear viewing for all. Muddy butts acquired, we headed home (yup, the fairgrounds) and hit the hay.

Day 30

Friday, June 24, 2005Des Moines, IA
Miles: 3579Hot Art!
Today we headed to Des Moines and the Iowa State Fair Campground. They have over 2000 sites, though after seeing them all, the thought of being crammed in their during fair time is a little disconcerting. As it is, only about fifteen or so are taken, so it’s not quite so sardinish. After settling into the campsite, i.e. setting up the tent and tossing the sleeping bags and camp mats in, we headed into Des Moines. This weekend is the Art Fest, a yearly event in which local artists are showcased, entertainment is provided and other fun, civic things.

We hung out in a city park for awhile, while Keath worked and Ceridwen went over the changes her newly acquired agent wants her to make to her book. That’s right, an agent. Yippee!! Let’s hope they can sell it.

After the workday was complete, it was time to seek out some Des Moines culture. We made our way to the parking lot and hopped a shuttle to the Des Moines Art Festival: three bridges in the middle of town, closed to vehicular traffic and covered with tents of art. Well, one bridge and some of the side bits had art - one was hands-on crafts and one was all food.

But there was still much art from Iowa and beyond. And most of it was fairly cool.

Unfortunately, the weather was very very un-cool. As in oppressively hot and muggy. And since Ceridwen is Welsh and prone to heat stroke, this did not bode well. Once we took a look at each artist's wares and photographed some of the cooler/creepier examples, we booked it to the air conditioned van.

Des Moines apparently has a pretty vibrant music scene, and there were many bands playing in bars and such around the city, but we didn't have much energy left so we decided to hold off on the bar scene until another day, another town, and instead headed to the suburbs for a movie. Tonight's film was Batman Begins and it did indeed rock. It would be hard for any film to be worse than the last two Batman movies, but we thought it did an even better job than Tim Burton's versions -- and that's coming from two pretty die hard Burton fans.

After the movie we headed back to the fairground for sound restful night . . . Only to be rudely interrupted by a lovely six hour thunderstorm. We tried sleeping through it, but round about 4 AM our generic brand tent's stitching gave way to excessive condensation and we made a run for the van. Roughing it, indeed. Since Ceridwen hadn't slept until we hightailed it to the van, we slept quite late in to
the next day.

Day 29

Thursday, June 23, 2005Pella, IA
Miles: 3476God is ons een toeviucht en sterkte

We woke up and had a wonderful Dutch breakfast, prepared by our hostess. There was also a mountain of fresh fruit and Dutch letters, a pastry filled with fruit and almonds. Yum. We decided to go to the Historical Village early in the day, as it is still exceptionally hot and humid.

The tour started with a bit of history from one of the tour guides, a retired resident. Pella is an interesting and wondrous place. Among other things, its senior citizens are active and vital. The Historical Village and many of the other attractions are completely run by volunteers who have retired. The history lesson was quite interesting. Here’s what I remember:

Pella was founded in the 1850’s by a group of 800 Dutch immigrants. They were being persecuted for their religion (the Reform Church) and wanted to leave the Netherlands to come to a new place. The wealthy minister, Scholte, decided to name the new town Pella, which means city of refuge. He had no idea where Pella was going to be, but knew the name of it. While still in the Netherlands, they chose Iowa, for it had recently become a state and land was still cheap. They purchased many acres, each family contributing money, as well as food for the trip.

Once they arrived in America on four ships, they set about purchasing things and making their way West. Within a month they had gained citizenship, renouncing their Dutch citizenship. They threw themselves into their new homeland and became very productive members of society. They became active in state and national politics, built a college and fought in U.S. wars, all within a decade or so of arriving.

Because Scholte had handpicked the rest of the party, they formed a ready made town. There were doctors, lawyers, blacksmiths, newspaper printers, and assorted other tradespeople. When they arrived in Iowa, they built their town and settled in. Because they owned everything for miles around, they controlled it and everything was kept Dutch, though the Dutch facades on the buildings didn’t come until later.

The historic village features a full size, working windmill, build in 2002 as authentically as possible from a 1850 design in the Netherlands. It is claimed that the only differences are the elevator (which is technically outside the mill), the staircase, and the sprinkler/fire alarm system, all of which are modern requirements for any public building. In reality, the base was also cement, not brick, and there were the obviously "touristed up" bits that are there for our benefit (safety and/or entertainment), but the structure itself is as authentic as can be. That said, it's quite impressive being a few feet from four 80 foot windmill arms whirling around in moderately strong winds. Photos really can't do it justice.

Although the settlers were all gung-ho in to being American and not Dutch, the small community maintained a predominately Dutch heritage. The windmill is only the most recent of the modern return to Dutch styles; when Pella-ites realized that they could attract people with their Dutch heritage and their annual Tulip Time festival, they put facades on all the buildings and started Dutching up the place. The effect is quite nice -- and complete with a canal.

The Historic Village was fun to walk through and even more informative. The best part by far though was the pictures of the Tulip Time queens. Wahoo, hair trends in fast forward, from the 1930’s to the present day!

The village was built up around the boyhood home of Wyatt Earp. There's not much in the way of Earp "stuff," but he grew up here until he was 12 or so, and people started showing up asking to see his house, so they built the village around it. Some of the buildings around it are Earp era farm building and were brought to the site from other areas of Iowa. Others were built in traditional Dutch style. All were decorated in period furnishings. Except the miniature Dutch village; that was as modern as a miniature village can be.

After our tour, we came back and had lunch. In case we haven’t mentioned the place we’re staying, it’s called the Cloverleaf B&B and we highly recommend it if you ever visit Pella (which we also recommend.) Besides being super reasonably priced and serving a great breakfast, the owners are very accommodating. They don’t live on the property, which makes you feel like you can relax a little. One of the things I tend not to like about most B&B’s is that you feel like you’re a guest who has to behave. We had the entire house to ourselves and were able to cook meals here and just generally spread out. When we asked where a Laundromat was, she told us we could use the washer and dryer in the basement. All in all, our stay here has been very relaxing.

After lunch and a little nap, we went to the Cordova Park Lookout Tower, which looks out over Red Rock Lake and the bluffs. It was a lovely view and the lake looked inviting, so we headed over to the beach to go swimming. Sadly, looks can be deceiving. What appeared blue and crystalline was really murky and smelly. Ceridwen went in up to her knees and waded back. Keep in mind that it was 95 degrees and Ceridwen is like a fish. It was that gross. Or we’re that used to NH spring fed lakes.

We went back into town, did some shopping and gave the van a thorough cleaning inside and out, obliterating the last of the gravel dust (we hope.) By the time we were done, it was 6pm and time for Thursday in Pella, a weekly event in the downtown area. Stores stay open late, vendors sell food, actors perform Shakespeare (well, that was this week's performance) and the town band plays. Again, the town is remarkable in its participatory nature. There are a little less than 10,000 residents and they pretty much all turn out on Thursday nights. Impressive. The band is so good that in City Band competitions, they are banned from competing with towns of the same size. They have to compete against much larger towns, and they still win. If you’ve ever seen the Walgreen’s commercials featuring the town of Perfect, they filmed in Pella. Through honest friendliness and a sense of humor, they manage to stay on this side of downright creepy. For instance, we saw the man who gave the history lesson at the Historical Village at the concert and we chatted with him for about 10 minutes, because he remembered us. He told us some more about the town today and how it’s changing, though apparently not for the worse.

We watched some of the Shakespeare, a twins competition and most of the band concert and then came back to the B&B for a night of sleep. Mmm, sleep.

Oh, and yes, this is where Pella windows are made.

Day 28

Wednesday, June 22, 2005Pella, IA
Miles: 3476Yup, Iowa

We lounged around the campsite until noon, which was the time the beach was supposed to open. When we got there, however, we found that it didn’t open until one. A closer look showed us that the lake wasn’t really worth swimming in anyway, since it had a suspiciously green tinge to it and a murkiness that didn’t bear thinking about. Instead, we went back to the campground so Ceridwen could take a shower, then Ceridwen looked at the area petroglyphs while Keath had a conference call. The petroglyphs proved uninteresting, since they had outlined them in white paint. They would have been cooler if they had outlined a couple, then left the rest alone. Instead of petroglyphs, they looked like someone’s attempts at sidewalk art.

After Keath’s conference call, we headed for Pella, IA, a town that revels in its Dutch heritage. We checked into our B&B (we’re splurging a little) and hid in the air conditioning for a bit. Then we took our first stroll around Pella and checked out the downtown. Most things were closed and it was still in the 90’s, so we headed back to the B&B and had dinner.

Around 8:30 we went back to town to check out the Klokkenspiel. The figures represented the history of Pella and also the annual Tulip Time festival. The figures were pretty, except for the one of the town’s founder. He was missing, the curtain going up and the lights going on on an empty stage. After the Klokkenspiel, we came back and went to bed. The heat of the day had worn us out, and we needed the rest.

Day 27

Tuesday, June 21, 2005Thousand Hills SP, MO
Miles: 3356Bye, Ol' Man River
Today we headed out of St. Louis. First on the agenda: Confluence Point, where the Missouri and the Mississippi converge, and our latest road lesson. See, Confluence Point is on a gravel road. Ceridwen grew up on dirt roads, and is quite used to them. They are nothing like this gravel road. This gravel road created clouds of dust. Unfortunately, by the time we realized this, we were covered in dust. The van has no recirculation feature, so we were stuck. There was dust everywhere. Gross. We ended up driving back from the point with the windows up and the vents closed. We roasted, but the van didn’t gain any more dust.

Sadly, the point wasn’t really worth all the work that awaited us. The Missouri, which is fast running and muddy, pins the blue, slower Mississippi to the Eastern bank for quite awhile, and it’s cool to see the Missouri pretty much kick the Mississippi’s ass, but not worth spending an hour and a half with damp rags cleaning gray silt off everything, which is what we ended up doing later on. Like I said, road lesson. I thought that the van wouldn’t be too happy about it, but it doesn’t seem to be running funny or anything, so that’s good.

After this misadventure, we drove to Hannibal, MO, the boyhood home of Samuel Clemons, or Mark Twain. Hannibal is a cute little town on the Mississippi which smells really nice. Not like anything specific, just nice. We both noticed it and remarked on the oddness of anything smelling nice when it’s pushing 100 degrees.

In Hannibal we went to the house Sam Clemons lived in, the house that the model for Becky Thatcher (Laura Hawkins) lived in and the courthouse where Sam’s father worked as Justice of the Peace. These sites were a lot more interesting than the Scott Joplin site, since many of Twain’s works were set in a fictional town based on Hannibal. This made the place relevant. They drew a lot of parallels between Twain’s real life and the events in his books, which was interesting. So interesting, we bought a copy of his autobiography.

After checking all these sites out, we went to the museum and saw what the interior of a steam boat would have looked like during the time that Clemons was a steam boat pilot. It also told how he came up with Mark Twain. Steam boats need 12 feet of water to safely pass. Mark is 10 and twain is two, so when the person measuring the water said “mark twain”, it meant that the water was safe.

After some ice cream, we climbed a huge hill in the heat, nearly collapsed at the top, looked at the view of the Mississippi, which was very pretty, and went back down. We went to the river’s edge to bid it adieu, and then headed West, ending our week and a half romance with the big ol’ river.

We stopped for the night in Kirksville, MO in Thousand Hills State Park. Despite their confusing policies regarding taking possession of a site, we got a great site with a great view. We were very Goldilocks about the whole thing. This site smells too much like a dump station, this site is too close to screaming children, but this site, overlooking the lake and nestled at the end of a nearly deserted loop, is just right. We watched the moon rise red over the water and listened to various animals go about their business. All of this was after the Great Road Dust Cleanup of ’05, of course. Some raccoons came to visit us while we sat watching the fire die down (yay, campfires again!) and we had to scare them off with bright light. They behaved like housecats, coming right up to us. We went to bed, leaving the fly off the tent and slept beneath the moon. It was nice to return to real camping, though still quite hot, even at night outside.

Day 26

Monday, June 20, 2005St. Louis, MO
Miles: 2962One Mo' Day In St. Louis, Louis
Today Keath worked an early shift and then we headed back into St. Louis. We had originally talked about leaving in the afternoon, after going to see the Scott Joplin House, but then I read about the City Museum and decided we should go to that as well. So we booked ourselves for another day at the St. Louis East KOA and had a more leisurely afternoon.

The Scott Joplin House was, well, disappointing. He and one of his wives lived there for only two years. It was the two years during which he wrote the Entertainer, but it wasn’t a big piece of his life. The downstairs was an interpretive center, with a timeline and facts about his life, African American music in general and specifically ragtime. They even explained why it is called rag time. It’s because the beats played by the right and the left hands fall opposite of each other, raggedly. Ragged time, rag time. Those of you who are musically inclined will probably laugh at my description, but that’s the best I can remember it.

Upstairs is the flat that the Joplins actually occupied, along with 4 other people, during the early 1900’s. None of the furnishings were actually his, but were from the time and approximately the sort that someone in their financial situation would have had. Back downstairs we ‘played’ the player piano, which basically consisted of pumping while the piano played the music. We listened to Peacherine Rag and then to a piece from the opera Joplin spent the last few years of his life writing and trying to publish. This was pretty much classical, as opposed to the brothel house music that rag time was. The woman at the museum was very snooty when we didn’t want to listen to the whole thing. So we left.

And went to the City Museum. Holy crap. If you have kids, or know someone who does, or if you’re like us and behave like children, you have to go here. The basic idea is this: take recycled materials, any recycled materials (rope, bottles, cans, industrial rollers, airplanes, fencing, statues, gargoyles, metal of indeterminate usage) and then make a playground out of it. Let kids climb in, around, through and on all this stuff. Let there be no rules to what they can and can’t do. And, oh yeah, create a network of concrete caves inside, complete with pirates and dripping water and a gigantic white whale that blows water every few minutes. These caves were a little too tiny for us to fit in, and after a few bonked heads, we headed for other areas, but the kids were having a blast.

Another area had a huge network of spiral staircases that sometimes led nowhere and sometimes led to slides. The ethereal music, dim lighting and excess metal bits added to the impression that you had walked into an M.C. Escher drawing.

The best part was outside, where a network of ladders, bridges and slides led in a giant maze above the parking lot. A plane leads to a tower with a gargoyle, a spiral staircase leads to a mesh tube which leads to a deranged treehouse. We were exhausted by the time we were through playing. The smart kids brought knee pads. We did not, so we checked out the really museum-y section, which was a bunch of architectural bits salvaged from old buildings in St. Louis. There were gargoyles, facades, rosettes and a whole bunch of other stuff we couldn’t give names to. While driving around St. Louis, we realized we really liked the architecture here, as Keath called it, “The Architecture of Westward Expansion.” Big, not to ostentatious, but not austere, either. A good mix of ornamentation and simplicity.

After our raucous fun ended, we went to Union Station, once a grand rail station, now a mall, to get our penny pressed. We’re collecting pressed pennies, since they are small souvenirs that don’t take up too much room in the van. We had heard that Union Station was pretty much the only place in town to get one, so off we went. Besides the usual mall shops, Union Station also had trampolines in the middle of the courtyard. We had to do it. We paid our money and spent the next three minutes strapped in to bungee cords, jumping and flipping. When we were done, we were REALLY tired. Acting like kids is tiring. Now wonder they sleep so well.

Our next stop was dinner, an Indian buffet downstairs from a Hari Krishna temple. They had wonderful food, exactly no atmosphere, and a creepy old guy who liked to talk. After dinner, we had some errands to do, shopping and such. No fun to write about or to actually do. After that, we went back to KOA for our last night there.

Day 25

Sunday, June 19, 2005St. Louis, MO
Miles: 2962Busweiser: The King of Beers
We thought about resting again today, but we are easily bored. We sat around the campsite for awhile and tried to figure out what we were going to do, but this led nowhere. We finally just got in the van and drove into St. Louis. We intended to just check out where things were and get an idea of if we wanted to spring for a hotel room in the city or not, but instead, we ended up doing touristy things.

Our first stop was the Arch. It was fun to look at, majestic and soaring and shiny, but going up in it was evil. Ceridwen is not all that claustrophobic, but when we climbed into a little pod with five seats crammed in it and started ascending 630 feet, she started to have a little bit of a panic attack, though she didn’t let on. The top wasn’t much better. The only views from the top are through windows about 6 inches high and 18 inches across. This did nothing for the feelings of claustrophobia. The views weren’t terribly exciting either. St. Louis and some surrounding corn fields on one side and the Mississippi and some smokestacks on the other. We walked from the exit of our North side tram to the South side tram and went down that side. Most of our time at the Arch was spent outside, trying to get cool photos.

We also spent some time in the Westward Expansion Museum, which was set up poorly and had no signs to lead you in the proper path. The Museum is set up in a series of concentric circles, with each circle being a different decade. Except they don’t tell you that when you start. We walked around baffled by the connections between things before we figured out the system, but by then it was time to get on the tiny tram.

After the Arch, we went to the Old Courthouse and walked around, then to some cool city fountains. One of them was running red, which we had many hypotheses about, though none of them were correct. It was actually supposed to be pink, as the Walk for the Cure had been the previous day. Instead of a nice pink, they ended up with a fountain of blood. Oops.

Our next stop was the Anheuser Busch brewery. We learned all about the wonders of AB and Budweiser and saw hops up close and personal. The best part about the Budweiser brewery is that they recycle almost everything. The Beechwood chips they use in their aging tanks are cleaned and ground into mulch for use in city parks (St. Louis supposedly has the happiest squirrels in the world), the used grains are cleaned and sold for animal feed and they recycle more cans than they use. Pretty impressive.

At the Hospitality Room, we discovered that our original bond is still as strong as ever: neither of us likes beer. We had some Bacardi Silver products instead, though Keath did try AB’s answer to Guinness, some dark foamy thing. We took sips, made faces and left.

While we saw some Clydesdales at the brewery tour, their weren’t too many of them there. We were told that the rest of the St. Louis based horses were stabled at Grant’s Farm, where they are bred to make future generations of Clydesdales. We took a drive out to Grant’s Farm, for even though it was closed, the Security Guard told us we could still see the horses if they were outside. And they were. They were very pretty, though we did wonder what happened to the ones that did not meet the exacting Budweiser standards of coloration.

Our sightseeing done for the day, we went back to our campsite and at dinner, then went to sleep.

Day 24

Saturday, June 18, 2005St. Louis, MO
Miles: 2962Lazy, lazy day.

And on the 24th day, Keath and Ceridwen rested. We rested in a KOA outside St. Louis. There were very few pictures, since we thought that taking pictures of us doing the laundry, playing Scrabble and going swimming would be kind of boring. We also ate brunch, rather than a really early breakfast, but that was not documented either.

When we weren't lying about, we went to the Chain of Rocks bridge, a pedestrian and bike bridge that crosses the Mississippi. It used to be a toll road for cars and was part of Route 66, but then it was converted. It made a nice walk. That was pretty much our day. We're planning more of the same for tomorrow. We've tried to make ourselves want to go do more adventuring tomorrow at some state parks a few hours away, but we just haven't worked up to it. We're just into lounging. And it's our trip, so we can do what we want. Yay!

Day 23

Friday, June 17, 2005St. Louis, MO
Miles: 2962Meet Me in St. Louis, Louis
Today we headed for the center of Metropolis and the big statue of Superman. We got a late start because Ceridwen was sleepy and not very quick out of bed (but Keath got lots of work done before anyone in the campground woke up!). We checked out Superman and a cool little museum with memorabilia from all the eras of Superman. The museum had the best AAA discount yet, bringing a $3 admission down to just $1 each. How can you go wrong?

Since I was so reluctant to get out of bed, we ended up being stuck in Metropolis while Keath had a conference call. I went to Harrah’s and did some heavy gambling. Ok, I played some slots and then gave up. Wahoo.

After the conference call, we were on our way again, up the Great River Road. This section occasionally crossed paths with the river. How exciting. We saw Karnak, Thebes, and Cairo.

Along the river, we stopped at Grand Tower, IL and went to Devil’s Backbone State Park. As far as we could tell, the only thing in the park was some RV sites, but right outside the park was a cool bluff overlooking the river, which we climbed, and some caves that river pirates hung out in during past centuries, which we were unable to access safely.

A sign on the side of the road informed us that Little Grand Canyon was just 12 miles up a side road. We decided to go for it. 17 miles on a winding road later, we arrived at the Little Grand Canyon National Forest. It was nice, but a little overhyped. More of a gorge than a canyon really, but it was nice to get out and stretch our legs.

In Chester, IL, we stopped for dinner at a pizza restaurant called Marcello’s. They had a really cool mural on their bathroom walls and pretty good pizza too. Since Chester is the home of the guy who created Popeye, we took our photos in the silly little cutouts in the center of town. We tried to find the statue that is supposed to be in town, but the Illinois guidebook led us astray.

St. Louis was our next stop, and we made it to our campground just East of the city around 8pm. Sadly, this campground is a city one, and is therefore not much fun. Most disturbingly, the counties surrounding St. Louis prohibit campfires to help control pollution. I can see from all the smokestacks, cars, trains and trucks around here that it’s really campfires that are the problem. I’ve heard it’s all the avid campers in LA that are responsible for the smog. I’m bitter. We’re contemplating moving to a hotel tomorrow since the joy of camping is diminished by the lack of fire, the presence of an odd smell near our site and the sound of the freeway.

Day 22

Thursday, June 16, 2005Metropolis, IL
Miles: 2704Truth. Justice. The American Way.
Tennesseeya! Today we left Tennessee, this time for good. But first we checked out the Ornamental Metal Museum. The outside was the best part, with a sculpture garden and a patio with the best overlook of the Mississippi that we’ve seen yet.

After looking at some very cool metal, we headed off to Arkansas. Which is flat. Flatty, flatty, flat, flat. Holy Moses, driving in Arkansas is boring. As I write this, Keath is driving. We’re discussing the very real possibility that you could perform surgery while driving through Arkansas. Signs warn you when there’s a slight curve ahead. A train runs alongside us. The odd thing is that the trees and farmlands and stuff are similar to NH, it just looks like someone grabbed the edges of NH and tugged it flat. And I think they’re crop dusting. I’m babbling, mostly to take the edge of the extreme boredom. They’re not crop dusting, they’re just messing around, flying low over the road, about 5 feet from the power lines. We’re driving through fields of soybeans. Yummy.

Oh, look, stuff. Now we’re in Osceola, AK. We’re now officially on the Great River Road. Well, now we’ve gotten lost, missing a turn, but we’re about to be back on the GRR.

We did make it back to the GRR, but it was not Great, nor very close to the River. But I guess it was a road, so that little spiel doesn’t work so well. Anyway, we drove along, getting out of AR relatively quickly. We ended up crossing back into Tennessee so we could avoid a little bit of flatness. The Eastern side of the Mississippi has more hills and swervy bits than the Western side.

In Kentucky, we tried to see a Caboose Museum, but sadly, it was closed for the evening. We stopped in Paducah, KY for a new camp mat and headed onward to Metropolis, IL, home of Superman and Fort Messac State Park, where we spent the night.

Before settling in, we stopped in Cairo, IL, the southernmost point in Illinois where the Ohio and Upper Mississippi Rivers converge. Cleverly, the people of Cairo call this "The Convergence." (Y'know, they say that everything that rises must converge.)

We headed on to Fort Messac, and Keath built a huge fire that spat at him, burning a hole in his shirt and melting the plastic zipper on his pants pocket. Yowza! Along with the fire, we decide to have s’mores. It was during this little adventure that we learned our latest lesson of the road: don’t buy marshmallows and chocolate in Georgia if you’re not going to use them until Illinois. We had squirtable packets of chocolate and a bag of marshmallow fluff. We tried various methods of assembly, including cementing a skewer to a graham cracker using the amazing adhesive powers of melted marshmallow and then roasting the whole thing over the fire. The fire, being super hot and flamy and not at all embery, was not the best for this, but we soldiered on. There’s not really anything you can do to s’mores that will make them taste bad.

Day 21

Wednesday, June 15, 2005Memphis, TN
Miles: 2352We're Goin' to Graceland!
After 3 days of drinking Memphis water, we were compelled to go to Graceland, like moths to a flame, zombies to brains. We hadn’t planned on it, neither of us being Elvis fans, but we went anyway. It was interesting to see, but sad to note his decline from attractive, charismatic singer to a jowly man in a jumpsuit. We didn’t come away huge Elvis fans, but at least we got the whole Elvis phenomenon. And looking at 70’s decorations is always cool.

Besides just going to the mansion, we also saw the cars and the airplanes. Mmm, 70’s cars. Big old gas guzzlers. And of course we saw the pink Caddy. The plane was awesome. A gutted passenger jet that he bought from Delta and outfitted in leather, suede and velvet. Sweet.

After Graceland, we had planned to go to the Ornamental Metal Museum, but it was too late, so we went back to the hotel to have dinner. Keath made dinner while Ceridwen lay on the bed feeling sick. Sun stroke, Elvis overdose, who can tell?

We should tell you at this point that we retract our earlier statement about the attractiveness of the population of Tennessee. Apparently, the homeliness is an Appalachia thing. People in Memphis and Chattanooga were average looking, some even attractive. What a relief.

After dinner, we went back to downtown to see a movie, Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith. It was, uh, ok. It was hard not to laugh at the bad dialogue, and there were some really random annoyances, but the screen was big and the speakers loud, so the large amount of explosions wasn’t wasted on us.

After the movie, we went and hung out on Beale Street again. There was a bike rally this time, so the street was filled with motorcycles. We felt right at home. It’s the right week for bikes to be everywhere, since it’s currently Bike Week in Laconia. A little bit of home by the Mississippi. Ceridwen was still feeling pretty awful, so we went back to the hotel and went to sleep.

Correction The aforementioned Big Cement W.C. Handy is actually made of brass. So there. We're not going to rebuild the photo page just to correct this, but now you know. No cement fathers of the blues down here. No siree.

Day 20

Tuesday, June 14, 2005Memphis, TN
Miles: 2352Birthplace of Rock 'n' Roll
Memphis is keepin’ it real. A lot of cities famous for specific things become fake and campy when they start getting tourists. New Orleans, for instance, had Bourbon Street, which has become a wasteland of frozen drinks and all night schlock shops. Memphis’s Beale Street, on the other hand, has maintained its, uh, soul. Twice tonight we watched live bands play in Handy Park, and every bar on the street had live music. Sure, drinks were ridiculously expensive, but that’s to be expected. But let’s start at the beginning.

Keath worked today from 6 until 2. A full day that still leaves time for sightseeing. You have to love it. We took off at 2:05 and got to Sun Studio in time for their 2:30 tour. It was a cool tour through the history of Sun Studios, starting in 1951. Our tour guide was also the assistant engineer, for you too can be recorded at the Studios for $75 an hour, which seems like quite a deal. The coolest part of the tour was the little studio itself, which you get to only after going upstairs to look at the memorabilia and hear about the history. Music clips were entertaining to all, and at the end, everyone scrambled to touch the microphone that all the artists had recorded with. According to our tour guide, many people want to kiss the microphone, even though it has never been cleaned. Yuck.

After our Moon Pie at the Sun Studios Café, we went to the Mud Island Park. The Park is nestled on a peninsula that sticks out into the Mississippi River. A two minute monorail later, we were on the island, checking out the very cool, half mile long model of the Mississippi. At last, a mighty river you can wade in. It was very hot, and the signs said you could, so we took off our shoes and waded into the topographically correct model and made our way to the Gulf of Mexico. It was a remarkably short journey. After our trip, it was time to return to Memphis and Beale Street.

Before we hit Beale Street, we decided to indulge in the air conditioning of Peabody Place, a mall. We wandered, had some iced beverages and checked out Isaac Hayes, a restaurant started by the man himself. After getting our share of coolness, we headed to Beale Street. We made it to Handy Park, where some great musicians (The "Beale Street Blues Band") were playing for free. Yay! We watched them for awhile, then checked out places to eat. Isaac Hayes seemed to be our best option, so we headed back. We ate, watched some people sing Karaoke, then headed back to Beale.

We cruised Beale for awhile to try to find the best option. The first bar we stopped at had no cover, but overpriced drinks. We had one each before deciding we didn’t really like the band, as they were more soul than blues. They were good, but we wanted blues, so we headed out. We walked down the street some more, trying to choose a bar, when we noticed that a new band was setting up in Handy Park. Shazaam! We got another drink at the bar next door and brought it outside (only allowed when the street is closed) and listened to the Juke Joint All Stars, a really good blues band. When they took a break we left so as not to be out all night long and have a lousy day tomorrow. The heat had taken its toll and we were rather woozy, but we decided to definitely head back tomorrow for more blues in the park.

Day 19

Monday, June 13, 2005Memphis, TN
Miles: 2352Just like Egypt, but less sand.
Unfortunately, Ceridwen’s hopes of getting Paul Simon’s song “Graceland” out of her head upon arrival in Memphis were dashed today. (I have reason to believe we all will be received… Agh, stop it!!!) But first our fun trip to the Huntsville Space Museum:

Nothing brings out the small child in people like space. Space is cool. Since passing the big rockets yesterday, we’d been super giddy to get up close and personal. Of course, the reality of a museum, with its placards and its instructional nature did dampen our unbridled enthusiasm a bit, but not much. We learned that the US space program was pretty much born in Huntsville, AL after the Redstone Army installation started making big rockets to propel things into space. They have built many rockets, did all the static testing for the shuttles and do all ground control for SpaceLab missions.

Ceridwen’s lifelong dream of being an astronaut was shattered when she realized that they have lovely things called poop bags that dangle inside their suits. Gross. She hadn’t been doing so well in her astrophysics studies either, so it was probably for the best. An IMAX movie was included with our admission, so we took a break from the museum to watch Red Flag: Fighter Pilot. It was quite cool, since Ceridwen’s other dream is to be a fighter pilot. And yet she has yet to join the Air Force. Anyway, we watched the movie, which followed newly out of flight school folks at a two week training course called Red Flag. Everyone there was training together: the pilots, the ground crew, the mechanics, the search and rescue guys and the firefighters. It was cool to see them all working together, though the coolest part was still being in the cockpit as they roared over the mountains of the Nevada desert.

We resumed our tour of the museum outside. Around noon. In Alabama. Dude. It was hot. We wandered aimlessly around rockets, tanks, more rockets, a Huey helicopter, a really tiny yellow submarine and some more rockets. The heat was getting to us, so we bought a flavored ice and smuggled it back through the museum to get back to the van.

We spent the day driving through the rest of Alabama and Mississippi. Some things we passed that were not documented photographically: a coon dog cemetery, a bird dog museum and a car junk yard with horses wandering around eating the grass that sprang up between cars. Then we were in Memphis, planning our three days here. Annoyingly, things seem to close early. Apparently the late night hours of the Northeast have spoiled us. Who knew Concord, NH was so cosmopolitan?

Day 18

Sunday, June 12, 2005Huntsville, AL
Miles: 2140Space: The Final Frontier
We survived Arlene, or what was left of her, snug in the van. The wind blew a bit, it rained a bit and some fireflies flitted around our campsite, making me think we were having a very tiny thunderstorm. (I was half asleep.) When we got up it was still raining, so we decided to put off Rock City, as it is a high spot with views, which, as we’ve learned, are destined to be fogged in when we get to them. Instead, we headed towards downtown Chattanooga, TN (as opposed to the outskirts, which are in GA). Before making it all the way into town, we stopped at Waffle House for breakfast. Pecan waffles. Yummy. We learned that Trace Adkins has a favorite breakfast at Waffle House, but we didn’t order that.

Our next stop was the Tennessee Aquarium, which is housed in two buildings with glass roofs. We went first to the Ocean Exhibit, where we got to pet sharks and rays with their stings removed. They felt slimy and Ceridwen squealed, in a manner befitting a small child, but the small children in the room were not squealing. They were very excited by the texture of the animals.

Next came Ceridwen’s favorite room: the butterfly room. Tons of butterflies were flying around, stopping at flowers and just generally being pretty. Keath photographed many of them with some very impressive results. Ceridwen apparently smells like food, since two butterflies landed on her. There were a few minutes when both were using her as a landing dock at the same time.

After the butterfly room, we saw the underwater caverns, a peaceful walk through fake rock with lookouts into a huge tank of water. The water contained three sharks, tons of smaller fish and, during feeding time, two divers. It was nice to have an aquarium that let you wander around and feel the mystery of sea life, rather than having placards every few feet to pound education into you. We spent a long time looking at the fishies. Keath’s favorites were unphotographable, as they were very curious about the humans and would swim directly at you when they saw the camera. That or they thought the silver camera was a mate. After the caverns, we saw boneless creatures: jellyfish, octopus, etc. The jellyfish displays were a bit trippy, as there were four glass cylinders that kept changing colors as the jellyfish floated up and down. Oceanic lava lamps, dude.

The River Exhibit was next. The first display in this exhibit was… uh, seahorses. Not riverhorses. Seahorses. Oh well. They were pretty and fun, and we decided that the coolest animal ever was the Leafy Seadragon. It looked like something out of the joint imaginations of Tolkien and Jules Verne. We have no photos, but we'll find someone who's willing to share and link to him when we have a faster connection to use.

The rest of the river exhibit was filled with sleeping otters, pretty fish, big fish, ginormous turtles and other cool river-y stuff. (Except the huge turtle, which was in a Gulf of Mexico exhibit.)

After that we headed to Lookout Mountain and Rock City. The drive up was worth it. It had cleared a bit, and when we came around the last corner, Chattanooga lay below us in a cool vista.

Rock City was very cool and scenic, except for the terrifying Fairyland Caverns. People, listen up: caves and blacklight don’t mix. Caves, blacklight and gnomes painted in blacklight reactive paint really don’t mix. Ceridwen got claustrophobic and almost had to bowl over some whiny children to get out of there. But before we got to this psychedelic juncture, we took many photos of the scenic beauty. There is an overlook from which you can supposedly see seven states. We think we saw at least four and told ourselves we saw all seven, since no one would argue.

After Rock City, we headed for Huntsville, AL. We thought there would be nothing interesting, but instead, we saw a giant rocket greeting us. The Space Museum. Sweet. You can read all about it tomorrow.

Since the Space Museum was closed, we went to see Mr. And Mrs. Smith. It was hilarious. A good time was had by all. Then we went to bed at the lovely Days Inn in Madison, AL. Since Ceridwen hadn’t slept well and would be doing most of the next day’s driving, we decided that a hotel would be a good idea. It probably was, but we missed camping. Camping is cool and addictive. After Memphis, we may not stay in more hotels, but that is always up for debate.

Day 17

Saturday, June 11, 2005Trenton, GA
Miles: 1968Arlene, Shmarlene!
As tropical storm Arelene threatened the Georgian countryside, we prepared for Abby's big birthday party in the park and our return to the nomadic lifestyle. The more time we spent in Norcross, the more we realized that we were stir-crazy. Once you get used to waking up in a new place every day it is hard to settle down in one place for too long. (And we've only been doing this for two weeks! Imagine what we'll be like in October!)

The morning started with an early rising Abigail invading our guest bedroom a.k.a. the living room a.k.a. Abby's playroom. We promptly got up and out of the way of her "My Sweet Kitchen" playset. Lo! There were more presents! Once everyone was more or less awake, Abby opened her gifts from us and her grandparents. There were many Little People and My Sweet Kitchen add-ons as well as some books and silly un-fun practical things like a T-shirt and some batteries. Oh dear. Fun fun fun fun fun.

Once presents were opened and people were cleansed, we pretty much did a load of laundry and loaded up the van while everyone else packed up for the party. And then off to the park we went! Thunderstorms were a-threatening, but we had a pavilion! Trisha's mom and step-mom were there to help decorate and then Aunts and Uncles and cousins from miles around came to wish Abby the best on her second birthday ever! Needless to say, there were more pressies! Everyone was quite impressed with Trisha's Cookie Monster cake and her willingness to risk permanent staining of the body for proper fur coloring.

After the party we finished packing up the van, said our goodbyes (and thank yous), and headed back out on the highway to hightail it to Chatanooga before Arlene really got us. We actually got all settled in to our campground before she even got close. Ha!

Day 16

Friday, June 10, 2005Norcross, GA
Miles: 1794Happy Birthday Abigail!
We hung out. It was Abby's birthday, so she woke up to presents from her parents, which she had much fun opening and playing with -- especially her Sweet Kitchen!

It was another work day for Keath, so he had to hide in assorted and sundry corners in order to make conference calls sound somewhat professional. Nowhere is really safe when Grandma and Grandpa have a child to play with; they can not be silenced!

There was a valient attempt to take Abby out at lunchtime for her birthday photos, but she was having none of it. Not with mommy and daddy. Not all alone with just mommy. Not with everyone around her. No photos for her today!

In the afternoon, the ladies went to Vintage Tea to have High Tea. They wore hats, stoles, and boas. They are finger sandwiches, scones, and teeny tiny desserts and drank unlimited pots of tea. They also tried their best to act civilized.

We did get some good birthday shopping done later on after she went to bed. We hung out and wrapped gifts up for tomorrow morning, but there was a Dance Dance Revolution to have. And ye cannot stop New Englanders from participating in a Revolution!

Trisha, on the other hand, knuckled down and got to work on the key ingredient in any birthday: the cake! This year, she was crafting the likeness of Cookie Monster in yellow cake and much icing.

Day 15

Thursday, June 9, 2005Norcross, GA
Miles: 1794Who are these people?
As you may have guessed, we played with the baby some more. We really have no interest in the metropolitan Atlantian region's "tourist attractions" (that we haven't already seen) -- we just stopped here for the company. We did have big plans to go to Stone Mountain and the Atlanta Botanical Gardens, but we never did. Chalk it up to Abby's smile or her parents' need to get things ready for a certain someone's birthday party. We stayed in Norcross.

Ceridwen's parents arrived in the afternoon to do some manual labor. The guest room, formerly of the basement, was moved to the main floor, evicting the artist formerly known as the music room. A lot of noise was made and a lot of silliness ensued.

Ceridwen and her parents went with Iestyn and Abby to their first day of Wiggly Worms gymnastics class. There, Abby was garbed in a cute little blue leotard. She ran around an enormous gym, jumped on a trampoline, and hung on to a bar which she couldn't even get her fingers around. She did very well and was very sleepy afterwards. She'd worn herself out. Grandma, Grandpa, Auntie, and Daddy were strictly forbidden to document these activities on film or digital media, but we did catch some warm up shots before they set off.

Keath and Trisha went to Party City (where every day is a party!) and picked up many Sesame Supplies for the Great Second Birthday Extravaganza! There was much deliberating over the proper materials to purchase so as not to over-Cookie-Monster the joint.

Day 14

Wednesday, June 8, 2005Norcross, GA
Miles: 1794I (heart) PHL
Not much really happened. Ceridwen played with the baby some more. Keath was in an all day meeting in Philly. Iestyn worked. Trisha tended to her child as appropriate and plotted for The Great Second Birthday Party.

Ceridwen played dress-up with Abby for a bit. Well, she watched Abby play dress up and documented it like a good Aunt should.

Keath got caught in Philly traffic and tried his hands at "the back roads" to get from Bala Cynwyd to the airport. It wasn't exactly speedy, but it seemed to get him their faster than the highway/parking lot. He arrived at the terminal at 6:30 for his 6:35 flight. Although, this was Philly, so on his way to his gate he stopped for dinner, looked for a decent magazine (and found none), and then boarded his flight with time to spare before 7:55 takeoff. Ahhh, yes, how I do (heart) PHL.

Day 13

Tuesday, June 7, 2005Norcross, GA
Miles: 1794More than 6 feet apart? Eeek!
We got up wicked early so Keath could catch the MARTA in time to catch his flight to Philly. Ceridwen spent the morning talking to the guys at the local Midas shop about our road trip while their colleagues aligned the van (well, it's tires, not it's chakras), changed it's oil, and so on and so forth.

Ceridwen and Trisha took Abby to the playground and generally spent the day hanging out and playing with the baby. Great fun was had by all. Well, Keath and Iestyn were working, but there was some form of fun had there as well.

In the evening Ceridwen went to open mic night at the local coffee shop, where Iestyn, accompanied by his pregnant roadie, brings his music to the people. He sang four great songs, and even dedicated one of them to us (Social Distortion's Reach for the Sky, the theme song for this trip).

Meanwhile, up the eastern seaboard, Keath's mom met him in Philly for dinner. (Dad couldn't make it since he was working in NYC that day. :-( Proxy hugs were sent both ways, though!) We headed out to a restaraunt in Manayunk called Sonoma. It was super-delicious and we of course want to go back often so we can try other dishes. It was Infusion night, so candy flavored drinks were enjoyed as well! Yum!

Ceridwen stayed at the coffee shop to see the rest of the show, even though Iestyn and Trisha had to bring Abby home for bed. She ordered a glass of wine, which took the whole village to serve, since the girls working the counter were underage. She was about to give up when an off-duty employee came in to order some coffee and said she would open it. Unfortunately, they were all too weak to get the cork out, but the coordinator of open mic night saved the day. And what a day!

Day 12

Monday, June 6, 2005Norcross, GA
Miles: 1794The first real break from the road!
Uh, we hung out and played with the baby. Trisha had a doctor’s appointment, so we were entrusted with the care of Abby, though Iestyn was available for translating. Keath worked, Ceridwen paid off bills, enjoying writing very large checks. Yay for elimination of debt!

Then, in the evening, the kids sat around and reenacted classic moments from their childhood.

Day 11

Sunday, June 5, 2005Norcross, GA
Miles: 1794Health: Excellent!
Another night in the tent, this one made slightly better by the flat surface and the dual sleeping bags. We got out of the campground early, and a good thing. The main road was pretty crowded, and we took our time stopping to look at overlooks. We also stopped at Newfound Gap, the largest and most popular overlook, and also climbed a ridiculously steep .5 mile path up to the highest point in the Smoky Mountains, the oddly named Clingman’s Dome. Sadly, as we crested the hill to the parking lot, fog started rolling in around the mountains and soon all views were obliterated. What is it with our luck with high places? We took pictures anyway. We hiked part of the Appalachian Trail while we were at Newfound Gap, and met many other hikers along the way. They were much better outfitted than we were, but were friendly and less insane than the masses at the parking lot.

After we got out of the park, we decided to head straight to Norcross and Ceridwen’s brother and sister-in-law’s house, rather than making a side trip to Chattanooga. Along the way we stopped to ‘mine’ for gems in Franklin, NC. This amounted to buying a bucket of sand for $5 and then dumping it into a wood and mesh strainer and letting running water wash the sand away from the planted flecks of garnet, sapphire, ruby, citrine, amethyst and bunch of other stuff. They man running the mining operation was very cool and knowledgeable about rocks, and made many comments about God’s design for the stones, but not in an annoying, bible thumping way.

We finally made it to Norcross and hung out before getting to bed rather later than we really wanted.

Alas, our batteries were deader than dead by this time, but there are "old-timey" photos of the North Carolinian side of the Great Smokey Mountains. And whatnot.

Day 10

Saturday, June 4, 2005Dollywood
Miles: 1562It was all a dream about Tennessee
Woke up grumpy again, since the campground was too well lit. We packed it up and headed off to Dollywood, along with most of the other people in Pigeon Forge. We expected it to be more Dolly-centric, but it was mostly just old timey, Southern themed, with lots of buildings made to look like ramshackle cabins. We rode all the coasters, ate some pizza and then stood in line for a ridiculously long time for a sky ride that was basically like giant swings. Not much more to say, after all, it was an amusement park. I will say this though: my brother swears that NH people are some of the ugliest in the world. I would argue that TN beats us by a lot. Not only are they often ugly, they are often fatter than fat and have really horrid teeth. (Just a little defending of the homeland.)

Miles: 1592Great Smokey Mountain NP
After Dollywood, we headed for the hills, the great big misty ones. (Nobody should enver combine Iron Maiden lyrics with Led Zepplin lyrics, but we just did!) I was getting grouchy from being in the sun and not knowing where we were going to stay. The area was so crowded that I was worried there wouldn’t be any sites available on a Saturday, but when we got to the Great Smokey Mountain National Park welcome center, they assured us we would find one, even though it was already 3:30. (They made us pay for a map, but they did it all friendly-like).

The first thing we did was set up our tent, then took off for a hike. We hiked a nice paved trail up to see Laurel Falls, but the views of the surrounding mountains along route were equally as interesting. Laurel Falls were nice and we took some photos.

On the way back to the campground we stopped along the crick and walked along in the shallow rapids. The water was freezing, but since we’re from northern climes, the air was friggin’ hot to us, so we ended up dunking ourselves in the water. Refreshing and exhilarating. We’re beginning to really adjust to and enjoy life on the road. Anywhere we go is home. We discovered the joy of this after the river when we just hopped in the back and changed out of our wet clothes. No need to drive anywhere, we were home.

Back at the campsite, we had some dinner, discovered we really need to buy some salt, and enjoyed the wine that Sue (our real estate agent) had given us. Unfortunately, after 10 days on the road, including one in the Tennessee sun, the wine had gone a bit off. (That doesn’t stop Keath!) We sat around the fire, which was oddly reluctant to start, and then I wrote these very words. Spooky.

Day 9

Friday, June 3, 2005Natural Bridge, VA
Miles: 1272Health: Fabulous, dahling!
Woke up to more rain. We sat up in our comfy little van bed and looked at some maps. Since the activity for our next two days revolved around scenic overlooks, we decided to bail on the Skyline Drive and Blue Ridge Parkway and instead get on I-81 and head for Tennessee and Great Smoky Mountain National Park, since that was where we were headed anyway. We were very excited about our first break from the plan and didn’t even get anything out for breakfast. We just put the curtains up, strapped stuff down and drove away. Other people were packing up tents. A world of suck.

This turned out to be a fabulous plan, as the rain didn’t let up and the fog never lifted. Also, Keath had never been able to work from the road, as we had been out of cell range, and now he could, since I-81 is a major route.

We made one brief stop in Natural Bridge, Virginia to see none other than the Natural Bridge which lays there. Although the official website of Natural Bridge claims it to be one of the seven natural wonders of the world, they seem to be the only ones who agree with this claim. (The most common list of seven is Mount Everest, the Great Barrier Reef, the Grand Canyon, Victoria Falls, the harbor at Rio de Janeiro, Paricutin Volcano, and Aurora Borealis; although there are several other lists which include assorted and sundry other mountains (Fuji, Kilimanjaro) and falls (Angel, Niagara), Natural Bridge, though cool, seems to be alone in it's claim.) Anyway, we went to see it, and it was nice. Especially the getting out of the car and walking bit.

Miles: 1547Pigeon Forge, TN
Other than Natural Bridge, we basically hauled ass for most of the day, Keath working, me driving. We decided to stay the night in Pigeon Forge and go to Dollywood the next day. The Tennessee Welcome Center offered a myriad of lodging options, so we chose a campground that was off the Parkway. We didn’t know what this Parkway was, but once we arrived in Pigeon Forge, we were glad to see that we weren’t on it. Someone transplanted part of NJ into rural Tennessee. NJ or Vegas, one of the two, or perhaps a horrible, unnatural hybrid of the two. Whatever it was, Pigeon Forge was crowded with bumper to bumper traffic, cheap hotels and overpriced attractions.

When in Rome, do as the Romans, so we went to the most hyped of all attractions for dinner: Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede, a dinner show with live animals with the ‘rivalry’ of the Civil War as the theme. After we got over making numerous comments about the anti-hyperbole of the theme, we made our way to the show. After all, Dolly Parton personally guaranteed that it was the most fun we’d ever have at dinner…

Buffalo. Stampeding, trained Buffalo. That’s how the show started. There were horses, there were trick riders, dancers, pig races and waltzers dropping from the sky. Square dancers rode horses and tiny girls rode ostriches. It was damn remarkable. In the end, everyone’s costumes lit up red, white and blue while a terrifyingly plastic looking Dolly sang. If your mind can fathom a combination rodeo/musical/circus/ren-faire, you might be coming close. It was a paratheatrical extravaganza in every sense of the term.

We went to bed in the van again, since this campground was so geared to RV’s that there was a small stream running through our site. Glad once again to have the van. Sleep.

Day 8

Thursday, June 2, 2005Shenandoah National Park
Miles: 1140Health: Grouchy From Lack of Sleep
The morning of the inaugural camping trip was not so successful. I didn’t sleep so well because I was cold. We had zipped the sleeping bags together, but that just left a giant, gaping hole for cold air to get in.

West Virginia is my least favorite State, at least the particular bit we drove through. The roads were windy and steep, as well as excessively narrow and completely devoid of shoulders. This probably would have been ok, even fun in a car, but it was annoying in the van, especially since it was raining and there was nothing terribly interesting to look at.

Our plan was to get to Shenandoah NP and begin our way down Skyline Drive, which runs right through the park. Once in Front Royal, VA, the north end of the park, we decided to stop and check out Skyline Caverns. The tour was about an hour, and our tour guide was very funny and blessedly northern. This meant that we didn’t get bored waiting for her to finish her spiels, though she did use the phrase “Don’t worry…” a little more often than was strictly necessary. (Her name was Jessica, unless you didn’t enjoy yourself, in which case her name was Danielle.) It was fun to see the caves and some crystals that are only in three places in the world. The crystals are protected by VA state law and the punishment for breaking them is 2 years in prison, yet the temptation to touch them was still strong. Good thing they had netting all around them to protect us from ourselves.

We got onto Skyline Drive and rose quickly into a heavy fog. We stopped at the first scenic pull off, and saw a few hundred feet into the valley. At the next stop, all we saw was fog. At the next, we couldn’t see the sign indicating what was scenic, and at the next we couldn’t see the pull off itself. A dotted line marked the edge of impenetrable fog and that was it. Not only was this not scenic, it wasn’t safe. Rather than driving on to the middle campground, we decided to stop at the first campground.

During the planning stages of this trip, we had briefly discussed making the journey in our Mystique and simply camping. When we pulled into the campground and saw people setting up tents in the pouring rain, we immediately felt happy to have our little Vantom. We crawled in the back and set up our bed. Keath managed to get a fire going in the rain (because he’s a Boy Scout – and brought cheat-lint along) and we cooked some soup and then played cards while the rain pounded on our sturdy roof. Ah, the comfortable dryness of Detroit steel.

Day 7

Wednesday, June 1, 2005Laurel Hill SP, Somerset, PA
Miles: 921Health: All better!
We spent the morning looking for a Rite Aid to fill my prescription. I had called in from the road several days before, so we had to go to a specific one, which was too bad since we passed a whole bunch of them. This particular one was difficult to find and we wasted the entire morning getting a prescription. By the time we got on the road it was 11 am and we were grouchy from frustration. Life on the Road Lesson 1: just go to any old Rite Aid and wait the 15 minutes while they fill it. We soldiered on and made it to Somerset, PA and Laurel Hill State Park with minimal stops along the way.

One of our stops was in Bradford, PA, the home of the Zippo lighter. We learned about the history of the Zippo and took some cool photos of the Zippo car and the streetlights around the museum. PA has a thing for shaped streetlights. Hershey’s are shaped like kisses. Anyway, Zippo was fun to walk through, and then it was back on the road.

We stopped in Somerset, PA, about 40 miles shy of our intended stop in Oakland, MD. Laurel Hill State Park was pretty wildernessy and not very crowded. The inaugural Lewin camping trip was a great success. We got our tent up without killing each other and Keath got a fire going with no problems. We had a lovely dinner of gussied up Ramen (thanks, Dad!) and hit the self inflating air mats.