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2021 Family RV Trip National Parks MT, SD, WY, NE, KS, MO, WI

  • After spending 2 weeks at brother Bob's near Portland, OR and doing more TLC on the RV we are ready to head out together with Bob's family and Mom to see National Parks, Presidential Libraries, and family in Wisconsin along the way.

    First day out running quite well but surprisingly another breakdown! The campground we stayed at was really cool with doves in the morning and quail in the afternoon flying around the park while we take walks around the campground. Nice to enjoy a walk after a hard day of driving.

    Waiting overnight for a repair part and Matt driving 4 hours to meet us and give parts left behind at Bob’s house, then we are on the road again. Routing north through Spokane, WA towards Glacier National Park, for the elevation grade is much easier than along I-90. We stopped at Kootenai Falls. Very nice falls, an easy hike, nice way to break up the drive. It also had a swinging foot bridge to cross the river. Tanya and Tom waltz over and when Bunnie crosses her dog Munchie places one step onto the swinging bridge and turns around! Hot Dogs and chips at the entrance to the park before leaving.

    Arrived at Sandpoint in Idaho, it was named the most beautiful town in the US in 2011 – very well deserved! We walked through downtown, it’s very pretty and artsy and there is a big, beautiful lake. There were a lot of locals on Prom night at the restaurant where we had dinner, it was nice to see all the fancy clothes on the kids.

    Moving on to Kalispell, MT and trying to get tickets for Glacier National Park, unfortunately this did not happen for us this trip, the tickets were sold out. We took a driving tour of Kalispell, for they had several murals, I saw an article on the web when searching for attractions in Kalispell. It was listed by cross streets and addresses, so I tried to place them into the GPS and for the most part it worked! Jan, Bunnie, and Mom rode along with me for this excursion.

    Stopping at the RV dealer where Tanya and I ordered our new RV - and they had a new RV of the same model we ordered right there on the lot, waiting for a customer to pick it up, so they let us look inside. This is the first time we have actually seen in “real life” the model we had ordered. So exciting to know that we made the right choice! We have not had any doubts about it - we did a very thorough research and a lot of thinking before making the decision about this RV - but several questions we had were answered by actually seeing it firsthand. The storage on this model and class of RV is phenomenal! Thanks Van City RV for being so accommodating! And thanks to the owner of that RV to letting us take a look inside! Maybe we’ll meet you on the road one day?

    Moving on, we stay near Grant Khors National Historic Site and visit early the next day. The ranch house was still closed due to Covid but all other buildings were open. We did a lot of walking around, the ranch deer would bolt out of marsh grass, beautiful to see them run through the grass.


    Pretty cool to see how the horse is harnessed.

    This is an actual working ranch. The National Park Service owns it now and has quite a few permanent and even more seasonal employees to work the ranch. In June and July they harvest 900 acres of hay for winter feed. 1 ½ tons for cattle, 2 tons for horses to get through the winter season for each animal. A display showed the transformation from open grazing land to harvesting hay and keeping cattle within boundaries. So ends the concept of “Open Range”.


    The original Beavertail hay stacker was on site and a video showing how it works was so good I bought a DVD.

    Down the street was the original Montana prison. This is Mom and me in the picture, she refused to get a pic in prison clothes.


    The one prisoner I was impressed with was in for bigamy. Story is that a man and his wife were living in a house that burned down. The man was thought to be killed in the fire. Checking the body, it was determined that it could not be her husband for the person had been dead for a while before the fire. The woman had remarried 3 weeks after the fire so both the wife and the new husband were arrested for murder. Trying to change the murder conviction, the newlyweds reached out to husband number 1. So, the murder conviction was dropped and new charges of bigamy, grave robbery for wife, grave robbery for husband 1 and all charges dropped for husband number 2.

    Bunnie waiting. Oh, she is the one on the left!


    An ice cream break and travel on… but after 120 miles another breakdown and it’s the fuel system again. I replace the fuel pump relay and we’re off again.

    Another breakdown, again fuel system, I replace the fuel pump for the 3rd time and we continue on the way to join Bob at a campground. It’s Jan’s birthday and we go to a steak house to celebrate. Tanya had gotten colorful happy birthday garland - everyone is a kid in their heart regardless of their actual age!

    Next day we make a travel stop at Little Bighorn National Battlefield. The visitor center had interesting displays of the battle as well as life in the times for both Americans and Indians. They phrased them as Euro Americans and Native Americans.


    We stopped at a campground in Sundance, WY for the night and had such a beautiful lightning storm through the night. Next is Devil’s Tower National Monument. Tanya stays behind to do her work while we drive to Devil’s Tower in brother Bob's Jeep, it’s a beautiful drive through the rolling hills. Last year we were here a month later and most hills had brown grass. Right now, in June, they are beautiful green grassy rolling hills. So nice!


    As you can see, the light was on the wrong side for a good picture of Devils Tower. The visitor center was open this year, so we spent a lot of our time there. Due to Covid they are still only allowing a few people at a time inside.

    I had never stopped in Sturgis, SD before and timing was perfect to have lunch. Actually, it is a small town until later in the year when hoards of motorcycle enthusiasts come to town for bike week. A shopkeeper said Sturgis and the nearby towns have to accommodate several hundred thousand bikers, wow! Right now, there is not much to see except for the Knuckle Saloon, we had a good lunch here. Our brother-in-law Bob likes Harleys and Jack Daniels Whiskey, we sent pictures for him.


    Arriving for the night in Wall, SD – it’s my favorite boondocking location, on a bluff overlooking some of the badlands. The ladies go into town to shop Wall Drugstore while Bob, Mom and I sit on the bluff and using binoculars view cattle herds, antelope, and big horn sheep far in the distance. We watched an older bighorn ram a younger one off a bluff! Later the younger one came by the campsite 20 feet away!


    This is the view from our campsite on top of the Badlands. See the antelope coming up the bluff? He walked this way around all the campers on the Bluff about 20-40 feet below the rim.

    The drive through the Badlands National Park was as great as before. The visitor center was open and similar to WY there was a display showing how they peel away layers of dirt and scale to reveal the bones of ancient dinosaurs.

    Wind Cave National Park was open this year. The elevator was fixed and they allowed 40 people at a time to tour the cave. There are 3 separate tours and a long waiting line. We scored a tour for everyone, and Tanya discovered an accessibility tour available so Mom and Jan could go on one also. The cave was not formed by wind as I thought, it got its name from how it was discovered. Some cowboys were out ridding, and one heard a noise in the bush, he peeked in and his hat was blown off his head! They rode back to town and told others what happened, a group rode out and this time as he peeked in his hat was sucked into the hole!

    During the tour, the ranger told us that the cave was not formed by water, rather it was formed by an accumulation of lime in cracks slowly widening to create space. Then when the whole area flooded the water dissolved the lime to create tunnels. Since the is only one opening to the surface the barometric pressure build up between the surface and the cave creating sucking or blowing. A meter measures the pressure, and it then calculates the volume of air in the caves. I have forgotten how much of the cave is mapped now but it is impressive! The day we were there another set of explorers went into the cave.

    Called BOX formation, the small origins of this cave where lime dissolved.

    Hot Springs, SD is a very interesting town, architecture, little park, destination for health spa. Sandstone blocks building structure. Oh, and good Gelato! Too bad that it was so hot out that as soon as walked out the door it turned to soup.

    Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, a huge collection of dinosaurs that perished only 20 million years ago were concentrated in one spot. Observations of the Serengeti Plain in Africa enabled scientists to determine that during a drought animals would concentrate at a waterhole and eat the forage from the waterhole out until they can no longer travel from water to food and they die from malnutrition. This concentrates the bones at the waterhole. Scavengers would feast and some of the bones were displaced but many were left in their original position.

    Scotts Bluff, NE and Chimney Rock National Historic Site, wow, I thought it was much higher! A unique tower above a hill was a line of sight for the early settler’s wagon trains headed for CA, OR, UT.

    Abilene, KS, a drive through the town looking at murals, a tour of the Seely Mansion – cool history. The daughters of the original owner sold to the current owner and he insisted that they continue to live there. Because of this all the furniture is original! Much of it was picked up at the Chicago World Fair. The new owner also provides tours of the house, he had learned so much from the daughters of the history of the house it. It’s unusual to get such personalized knowledge on a tour.

    Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, the first Presidential Library for the rest of the family, they were very impressed. Of note, he was responsible for creating government programs NASA, Health and Welfare, Interstate Highway programs. Negotiating and getting along with others were his strongest skills.

    Harry S. Truman Presidential Library is still closed. I was able to speak to a security guard and he thinks sometimesome time in July 2021 it will reopen. Another road trip some day!

    Marceline, MO – the Walt Disney Boyhood Home, great museum, a lot of information on the development of him and his brother Roy also the development of the theme parks. If you visit Marceline, definitely go to the only Mexican restaurant in town, amazing flavors!

    Badlands – the following was written by Bunnie.

    Almost everything we’ve seen and done has been really special and amazing it own way, but I’ll try to give you the highlights.

    One of the most amazing things for this West Coast girl was the lightning storms. In Wyoming, there was a thunder and lightning storm and a rainbow at the same time. It was amazing. I’ve never experienced anything like that. When the rain stopped, the lightning continued non stop, just flashes of light in the sky one after another and occasionally a forked lightning bolt. I kept saying how amazing it was, but Jan, Bob, and Mom weren’t impressed. I guess they’d seen it many times. The closest I’ve ever seen to this was the Northern Lights. It was the night of the lunar eclipse, and when it started raining, I was disappointed because it meant it would be cloudy and we couldn’t see the eclipse, but this was much more exciting for me. We had the same type of lightning storm another night, but no rain this time.

    The Badlands are amazing rock formations and we saw bison, big horned sheep, and prairie dog towns there. I leaned prairie dogs are a type of a ground squirrel and are very important in the environmental cycle. Their burrowing loosens up the ground and makes it more hospital to many types of worms and insects, and helps the grass to grow, etc, etc.  As we left the Badlands, Jan and I toured a sod house and farm. They had white prairie dogs there which we could see up close. This is the only place in the world where these white prairie dogs exist. no one knows why they are here, and nowhereno where else and why they are white. They are not albinos, just white haired.

    Unfortunately, we couldn’t drive through Grasslands National Monument. It is on a reservation, and they closed it until COVID-19 is more under control. It seems they have managed to keep the reservation relatively COVID free, and don’t want tourists to bring it to them.

    Speaking of reservations, I was struck at the site of the Little Bighorn cemetery and battlefield how the park service made the distinction between Native Americans and Euro-Americans. It talked about manifest destiny, but I thought it did a good job of stressing how the Native Americans had wars between their tribes before the Europeans arrived. Another thing I learned about there was the “ledger art”. The Native Americans were used to making drawings on hides, or on rock. When they couldn’t find hides, they would use any kind of paper they could find from the White folks, usually ledgers, or Army pay books or whatever. There are 2 collections of ledger art on display there, mostly drawn in prison. It seems one particular general would give the prisoners paper and colored pencils or paints, and demand they make drawings for him. He also demanded they sign their work. One picture has the artists signature on it, and then the word “signature” next to it. I think it was his way of thumbing his nose at the general.


    Mom and Mickey!


    Mark Twain – the following was written by Bunnie.

    Almost everything we’ve done and seen has been amazing, but the last two days were really high points. We went to Marceline and Hannibal in Missouri; the boyhood homes of two men I have admired most of my life: Walt Disney and Samuel Clemens, Aka Mark Twain.

    Of course, I cried when we went into the Walt Disney Hometown Museum. It’s the old railroad depot (no trains actually stop there now) adjacent to the park where Disney first fell in love with trains. The park was donated to the town by the train company (I forget which one) and was named after the director of the railroad at that time (whose name totally escapes me now. The first engine of the Disneyland Railroad was named after him, too. Walt’s uncle was an engineer, and whenever he was coming through town he would blow a signal whistle, and Walt would run out and jump on the engine and ride it the rest of the way (about 20 minutes) to the depot and get to watch his uncle at the controls. Main Street, the first street you walk on into Disneyland is modeled after Main Street in Marceline. Just hearing and reading the stories of his growing up, and then his contributions to the town later in life and knowing he had been in those rooms and on those streets brought chills and tears at times. Disney bought back the property where his family farm was, and the barn was recreated and used in some of his movies. Now, you can go inside and write something on the walls. It’s hard to find any free space to squeeze anything in anymore, but I managed to scribble “thank you for all the magic” and sign my name in a corner.

    There was a particular tree on the property where Walt and his sister Ruth would play, and often he would go there to be alone and think or sketch. He called it his “dreaming tree”, and even when he came back to Marceline as an adult, he would sometimes go there to be alone and just think. The actual tree is dead now, but they saved a branch, and have it in the museum, encouraging people to “gently touch it” and feel the inspiration. At the farm, they have a fence around where it was, and a plague talking about it, plus the “son of the dreaming tree” which his nephew planted, and they mixed dirt from Disneyland and water from the lagoon at Disney World in the planting. This may sound really weird to some of you, but to me, it was a truly spiritual experience to stand there at the spot where he conceived many of his ideas and projects.

    The same was true the next day, in Hannibal, where they’ve recreated Samuel Clemens house, and Huck Finn’s, Tom Sawyer’s and Becky Thatcher’s home, and the white picket fence that Tom had to paint as punishment but conned his friends to not only paint it for him, but he made money off the deal. There were times I would just get shivers and chills thinking that the man actually had lived there and created his stories there. It was truly mind blowing.

    We’ve seen and done many more amazing things, like the Badlands National Park, and the Wind Tunnel National Monument, and Little Bighorn where Custer had his last stand. I’ll try to get more details of those things later, but the last two days just hit me so personally, I wanted to write about them while they were still fresh.

    Tom -

    The following night, we stayed at a very pretty campground near the Mark Twain Lake, but we were still in the middle of the heat wave, and it was also humid, so we could not stay outside. There was insufficient cell signal for Tanya to work, so we got up early and drove to a local town nearby, parked at Hardee’s, the only place open at the time. Later, Bob caught up with us and it was so much fun having a morning “picnic” in the parking lot, eating our breakfast, sitting outside chatting! I think this was the very most enjoyable meal on this trip yet. Fast food in a parking lot with a lot of laughs! Life’s best moments very often happen spontaneously, you just need to be open to catch these opportunities.

    Bob’s family had to walk through the drive-through of Hardee’s to order their breakfast.


    We arrived at the Gateway Arch in St Louis but were not able to get tickets to the tram that takes you to the top. Tickets are sold out for the next 10 days! So, Jan walked into the visitor center while we tried to find parking. It is not easy to find parking here, I had the same problem last year.

    We are camping in Illinois and waiting for Bob’s daughter to stop by for a visit. This is our first down day in 2 weeks, and everyone feels a little odd not driving today.

    Meeting up with Bob’s daughter Robin and catching up on each other’s lives makes you realize how fast life goes by and how different our journeys are. Robin is bringing her children and grandchildren over in the morning to meet with us. A very impressive grown woman, like all of us facing life and meeting those challenges as they come.

    On to Springfield, IL for a visit to the Lincoln Presidential Museum and Library.

    Lincoln, Eisenhower, Seely Mansion – the following was written by Bunnie.

    So, today we visited the Lincoln Museum, another man whom Iwho i have long admired. It was remarkably interesting and well done. One of my favorite parts was Tim Russet doing a telecast of the election as if it was current, describing each of the four candidates varying point of view and a campaign ad for each candidate. There was also a show talking about the library, and how artifacts and papers give us clues to how things were then. It ended with a reading from a soldier’s journal which was very moving.

    Lincoln was really in a no-win situation when he issued the Emancipation Proclamation. People either totally opposed it, or thought it didn’t go far enough, as it only freed the slaves in the confederate states. I thought Juneteenth was 2 years after the Proclamation, because it took that long for the communication to from Washington to Texas, but in actuality it was because Texas was a confederate state, and so Lincoln had no power over them at the time. It was also interesting to learn that his own cabinet was very divided on the issue. A few of them wanted the slaves freed because they thought then they would all leave the country.

    The First Lady, Mary Todd Lincoln, was also in a no-win situation. The high society in DC thought she was a “coarse country bumpkin”, yet when she went to NYC for a shopping trip to redecorate the White House, she was criticized for wasting money and putting on airs.

    Another thing I found interesting was a journalist had photographed Lincoln’s coffin when it was lying in state, so the whole nation could see it, not just the people who could get to Springfield. Mary Lincoln was very upset by this and asked that all the photos be destroyed. They were sent to one of the Secretaries and believed to be destroyed, but he had secreted one away in a file and was not discovered until 1952. 

    This was the second presidential library and museum we visited. Last week, we went to Eisenhower’s library and museum in Abilene, Nebraska. I never knew much about Eisenhower other than he was a General and notable figure in the Second World War. This museum was very well done, too, but very different. I didn’t know that Eisenhower had also fought in the First World War. He was a very “middle of the road” guy, not in a bad way, but in a way that really brought the nation together. Both Republicans and Democrats tried to get him to run as president for their party, Truman even offered to be his vice-president if he ran. He declined and then chose to run as a Republican 4 years later.

    While we’re talking about Eisenhower and Abilene, Nebraska, it’s a very interesting town. Long before the Eisenhowers lived there, it was known as the end of the Chisholm Trail, where the long cattle drives ended. Bill Hickock was one of its first sheriffs. Unfortunately, the historical center wasn’t open while we were there, but Tom, Jan and I did go inside the reconstructed old town even though all the buildings were closed.

    Also in Abilene is the Seely Mansion. Dr. Seely made patent medicine, elixirs, and cure-alls, and also household soaps and shampoos, and Ant-Die, an ant repellent he sold door to door.

    A then well-known architect at the time presented the Seelys with plans for the mansion, and asked them to go the World Fair in St Louis and make any changes they wanted, as well as pick out furnishings and draperies, etc. Julia Seely was very meticulous (some say very OCD): everything had to be symmetrical and matchy-matchy. They had two daughters, who were about 3 or 4 years apart, but did almostmost everything together. The oldest was very much like her mother; very domineering and meticulous. The younger was more submissive and went along with the program. At this time, the Eisenhowers were the poor folks living on the other side of tracks. One of the daughters dated Milton Eisenhower in high school for about 3 weeks, until Mom found out and quickly put an end to that. None of those Eisenhowers (or any other boys in town) were good enough for her girls. All of the Eisenhowers went on to have very powerful and successful careers, while the Seely sisters lived there in the mansion, destitute, until their deaths in their 90s. When they were destitute and the house was falling apart, a historian named Terry convinced the daughters to sell him the house. He agreed to let them live out their days there, and he moved in too. He kept everything exactly like Julia Seely had it and learned many of the stories about the former high life the Seelys lived. He lives there now and is the tour guide. It’s so fascinating, because it really is a living history.


    They had a bowling alley in the basement!


    Finishing the first half of our family RV trip, we are  camped at the family lake house in Wisconsin. We will be spending time with all members of our Wisconsin family and sharing what is going on in our lives.

    We have made so many miles, already almost 2,900 miles so far on this family trip. Of course, Tanya and I have already covered 6,000 on Tanya’s solo trip and total of 10,200 miles for the year. Constant traveling does wear you down, especially when you are dealing with breakdowns in the middle of a heat wave. Second half of the family trip will be coming later on.