Now that I am in IOWA, what is there to see and do??

This blog will be divided into two sections – the Eastern side and the Western side of Iowa and will cover what there is to see and do while traveling through  Iowa. Trust me, it is not all corn fields!! 

Thanks to the Lewis and Clark Expedition, Iowa became a vital part of the United States. After the Louisiana purchase, settlers started moving into the area and laid the foundation for what is known today as the heart of the Corn Belt.  Although Iowa does have a strong agricultural economy. there is also a diversified economy that includes manufacturing, processing plants, finiancial services, biotech, and green energy production. Iowa ranks as the 30th most populous state in the U. S., which has to mean there are numerous large cities within the state’s borders.

Welcome to North Dakota- Land of Legends

 

Welcome to North Dakota.  

With this blog I will attempt to dispel the rumor that there is nothing to see or do in North Dakota.  This has been a “bum rap” because there is a lot more to North Dakota than a few months of cold weather, hypnotic waves of green and gold wheat fields, and ever populating oil wells. I hope to show you how to create some wonderful family memories with the hundreds of fun things to see and do! 

Let’s begin this vacation adventure in North Dakota with a question: What does your family like to do? No matter what the answer, there is definitely something your family will love in North Dakota.

Does your family like to golf? There are 124 courses and the cost for all weekend golfing is less than a single-round in other states. Does your family like history?  This land teems with dinosaur digs, old west forts, earthlodges, museums; not to mention the past residents and visitors like Theodore Roosevelt, Lewis and Clark, Sakakawea, Sitting Bull and Gen. Custer.

Looking for outdoor family adventures?  Look no further as North Dakota has mountain biking, hiking, canoeing, kayaking, fossil digs, fishing, hunting, horseback riding, waterparks, skiing and snowmobile trails.

Does live animal life appeal to your family? There are more wildlife refuges in North Dakota than any other state. Also within the state are four zoos, a National Buffalo Museum that supports a live herd, including three albino buffalo … and much, much more.

Today, more than ever, cost is a big factor in planning a vacation and there is good news on this front –  AAA has  recognized North Dakota as the most affordable state destination for family vacations. 
 

 

Big Bend Texas Country – National Park

A large part of the Big Bend area in Texas will remind you of an old spaghetti-western movie we watched years ago. As you look out across the sparse vegetation and rugged rock formations one would almost expect to see John Wayne with a Calvary troop coming up over the horizon. The Big Bend area still looks the same today as it did when life was lived over a hundred years ago on the Old West frontier. There are numerous museums and old forts throughout this region that are saving the heritage and the history of a way of life as it existed on the 1800′s frontier.

When you look at a map of Texas, the far southwest corner of the map is the Big Bend Country. The borders are outlined with the Rio Grande River from El Paso to Del Rio. This is the land that was loosely defined as “lawless, west of the Pecos River”. The area encompasses over 1.17 million acres and in excess of 40,000 square miles. Within this real estate is two National Parks, several State Parks, a desert, a huge oak forest, towering mountain ranges and the churning rapids of the Rio Grande river. A person can hike, camp, run the river rapids, horseback riding, mountain bicycling, jeep touring or just plain enjoy the sightseeing opportunities. If you love to paint or take photographs, this is a breathtaking place to be – sunsets, moon rises, mountains and the beauty of the desert.

The USA Highway Trip blogs are all about the highways and towns across the country; the ultimate “Road Trips”. The Big Bend region is sparsely populated, arid, and rugged but nevertheless has many unique towns filled with history and ambiance. I will be adding the restaurants, hotels/motels and campsites as they are far and few between. Enjoy as we road trip our way through the Big Bend Country of southwest Texas.

Saddle Up – Exploring Big Bend Country – Texas State Highway 62/180

The vast majority of this road trip will take place in or on the fringes of the Chihuahua Desert. The word desert brings up mental pictures of suffocating heat during the day and arid landscapes; but this desert has mountains, valleys and green meadows that must be seen to really appreciate the hidden and rugged beauty. If you are looking for a place to get away from it all then look no further.

We are starting our journey on Texas State Highway 62/180. At this point of our road trip, a word of warning – gas stations are few and far between. You would be advised not to take this route without at least a half of a tank of gas. This route will take us through Guadalupe Mountains National Park plus four small towns as we head into El Paso. These blogs are all about the towns, sights and “what to do”. Just remember the best surprises can come in small packages. We will start this post with the tiny town of Pine Springs. This tiny community of approximately 20 people lies 21 miles from the New Mexico border on Highway 62/180. Pine Springs was established in 1858 as a stagecoach station on the famous Butterfield Overland Mail Route. Although today all that is left of the station is some tumbled down stone ruins and a historical marker, but I bet if you try, you can picture in your mind the corrals, stagecoach buildings and a cloud of dust as the stage comes rolling in. Today Pine Springs claim to fame is the fact that the town sets at the “front gate” to the Guadalupe Mountains National Park. The only conveniences that Pine Springs offers is a campground near the ruins of the stage station for tents and self-contained RV camping. Rest rooms and water is available at the campgrounds.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park is the state’s highest point (elevations ranging from 3,650 to 8,749 feet) plus contains one of the most breath-taking scenic beauty in the entire state – McKittrick Canyon. The barren desert surrounding the outer mountains give a hidden picture of the inner mountain slops. Within the McKittrick Canyon is forests of ponderosa pines, aspens, maples and mountain junipers plus an abundance of deer and elk in the upland meadows. Visitors may drive near the mouth of McKittrick Canyon and use the easy hiking trails. Visitors are encouraged to stop at the headquaraters visitor center on U.S. Highway 62/180 near Pine Springs.

South Dakota Highway 385 and Highway 16

SD Highway 385 & 16 are not border to border highways but during the summer months these two popular highways attract millions of visitors with their natural treasures offered within such short distances.  These South Dakota national treasures include Wind Cave National Park, Jewel Cave National Monument, plus the two greatest man-made monument – Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Memorial – each standing today as America’s symbols of democracy.

S.D. State Highway 385 actually starts at the Nebraska border with the first hint of the beautiful Ponderosa Pine laden Black Hills.  Our first stop will be the Native American town of Oelrichs, South Dakota  It may be small but the town is rich in history. Arrowheads and other artifacts found in the  area are evidence of the migration of the early Native American tribes as far back as the 1700’s.  The next migration was the miners in route to the Black Hills, followed by the cattle herds to feed the miners. The cattle ranchers started settling in the Oelrichs area around 1879 and the town was founded in 1885 and named in honor of Harry Oelrich, cattle baron.

Following SD Hwy. 385 north will bring us into Hot Springs.   According to legend, the Sioux Indians first discovered the warm mineral springs which would mark the site of Hot Springs. Early growth of Hot Springswas attributed to these hot mineral springs. In the late 1800’s the population more than doubled and by 1900 there were two railroads, a college, five public bath houses and ten hotels.  Even today in Hot Springsthe warm water river continues to flow year around and people still collect and drink the healing mineral waters.  A visit to the Mammoth Site Museum is an experience like none other.  Here you can witness the unearthing of prehistoric mammoths by actual archeologists. Be sure to check the website (www.usahighwaytours.com)  for the many attractions, antique shops, museums and eateries available in Hot Springs.

As we wind our way north on Hwy. 385 the next town will be Pringle.  Today Pringle is a small but beautiful town nestled in the heart of the Black Hills. Pringle’s main income is from tourist trade and the ranchers in the area. The old west look still clings to the town, adding to its beauty and mystique.

Our next town will be Custer.  Now we are getting into some serious tourist towns along this highway.   Custer is the oldest town in the Black Hills and the county seat of Custer County. The town was built  on French Creek near the place where gold was first discovered on July 27, 1874, by a prospector with General Custer’s expedition into the Hills. Custer can probably rival Deadwood with a colorful past in the days of gold rushes and wide open towns. Today, Custer, SD is a tourist town with a beautiful backdrop of scenery and history. Be sure to add several of the fascinating museums in Custer to your itinerary, they are more than worth the time.  Nearby Custer State Park is a must visit to see herds of buffalo, wild mustangs,burros and large prairie dog towns as you drive through the park.  There is even jeep safari’s available to ride among the area wildlife.

We are now deep into the Black Hills and climbing as we wind our way into Hill City.   Discovery of tin, gold, and copper brought Hill City’s first settlers in 1876.   Today, Hill City is the “Heart of the Hills” recreational area;  a tourist town located near Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Custer State Park and several National Parks. Hill City also has a year round population that serves numerous residents in the Black Hills area. Because of the growing artist population and numerous art galleries, comments have been written that Hill City, SD could become the “Santa Fe” of the Black Hills.

Continuing the climb up SD Hwy. 385/16

As we leave Hill City heading North on Hwy. 385 there will be a quick jaunt off this highway and onto Highway 16.  This short highway is easily the most traveled Highway in South Dakota as it winds around the granite mountainside that holds the world-famous Mount Rushmore National Monuments.  Just two miles before reaching Mount Rushmore is  the tiny town of Keystone.  Keystone was  another gold rush town in the Black Hills that was founded and named from a near-by gold mine.  When the mines closed the town almost died until another treasure was created – Mount Rushmore.

Today, the older part of Keystone follows the creek, with residential houses on one side and store fronts  on the other side. Keystone is definitely a tourist town with it being in such close proximity to  Mount Rushmore National Park. Yes, there are more souvenir shops per square inch than anywhere else in the Black Hills  but don’t bypass the Borglum Historical Center in your rush to see the “Faces”.  Here you can learn how a man with a dream at the age of 60 carved a world-wide renown monument as a symbol to democracy and freedom.  

Drive slow and enjoy the scenery and the “wild west” ambiance of the area as you wind around back up to Highway 385.  Before you reach 385, you might want to take a quick detour to Rockerville.  Rockerville was a gold rush town in the Black Hills that was founded in 1876 and died in 1878 when the gold ran out. The name Rockerville, came from the rocker system used in gold mining.  Rockerville is a ghost town that is still listed on the map.  Today the tiny town only  consists of several old buildings that have been preserved and some are open to the public. There is a great restaurant and western style bar still doing business year round.  Rockerville is well worth the short detour and stop to wander around an authentic old west gold rush town and have a drink in what looks and feels like a 1800′s bar.

During the summer months Highway 385 attracts literally millions of visitors with the breathtaking beauty of the northern Black Hills as we ramble through the Black Hills National Forest. On this route we find ourselves in dense Ponderosa pines and suddenly winding around scenic mountain lakes as we travel  northward through the heart of the Black Hills.  Our destination on this route is Deadwood.   Like all of the other towns on this highway, Deadwood was a  booming gold strike town. The name was derived from the gold rich gulch that the town is situated on.  Deadwood sits high up in the Black Hills mountains of South Dakota, and is a small town with a big past.  Deadwood has a world-wide fame and is a magnet for every tourist who enters the Black Hills. In fact you will be greatly disappointed to leave the Black Hills area without seeing historic Deadwood. And lastly, Deadwood has the reputation all through the local region of being a more or less “wide open” town. This reputation has been held from the very beginning and still holds today. If slot machines, poker tables, and blackjack are your passion then you are in the right place.  The continuous line of Casinos on the main drag through Deadwood might make you think you are in “Little Las Vegas”, and you are! So pull on your boots, strap on your six shooters (not really) and walk the same streets as Wild Bill, Calamity Jane, Preacher Smith, Poker Alice and Deadwood Dick.  While you are in Deadwood be sure to visit the many historic museums, Wild West reenactments, and the old historic cemetery where most of the Wild West characters are buried. 

We kind of intertwine with Highway 14 as we go north into Central City.  Don’t blink as Central City is hard to recognize as it lies between Deadwood and Lead but is definitely listed on the map. During the gold rush in 1877  Central City was a bustling community that was centrally located between the two larger cities.  Today Central City is basically a residential town that houses the workers from Deadwood and Lead.

Lead, South Dakota was founded in 1876 and went through several name changes before finally settling on Lead. This is a town that is as rich in history as it is in gold. Unlike its sister city, Deadwood, this is a work town – gold mining. The Homestake Mining Company was incorporated in 1877 in San Francisco, and under the guidance of that company Lead grew into a city that lasted well into the 21st Century as a gold mining town.   Today Homestake Gold Mine has shut down mining operations but for many years this was the main income for the surrounding Black Hills towns. Tours of the mine are still given on a daily basis in the summer months and plans are underway to utilize the hundreds of tunnels for other industry. Although not quite the wide open town that Deadwood has been, Lead still has a rich Wild West history and many places of interest to the history buffs.

The friendly town of Lead has locally owned restaurants and bars, lodging and motels for the traveler looking for a rest stop along South Dakota’s highway 385/14.  Unlike so many of the other towns along Highway 385, Deadwood and Lead are year around tourist towns due to the high altitude.  You are standing in a “Mile High City” as the altitude is exactly 5,320 feet – great skiing country. The Casinos and Ski Resorts keep Deadwood and Lead going year around. 

I sincerely hope that you have found the narratives on all of the towns on South Dakota Highway 385 and 16 informative and helpful in planning your next trip to the South Dakota  Black Hills area.   There is so much more to see and do than just see Mount Rushmore for an hour or so and then drive on past all the other wonderful sights not knowing they are even there.  Our website, www.usahighwaytours.com has all the many attractions for every member of the party.  I hope this has interested you enough that you will visit the website and purchase our book on this highway with many beautiful pictures and an indept description of each of the towns with what to see and where to go.  Now you know – once you have seen Mount Rushmore there is a lot more to do and see. 

 

TEXAS – A WHOLE OTHER WORLD

 

The native Texans are not kidding when they call their state “a whole other country”.  This enormous state has ocean front property, mountains, deserts, cotton fields, oil wells galore, a city dedicated to growing the largest and most beautiful roses, cowboy towns, sophisticated cities, national league football, baseball and basketball teams and the list goes on and on. 

Because of the size and diversity of this state, I have decided to truly do justice to Texas I will have to divide it into seven regions – kind of like eating an elephant – one bite at a time.  If you enjoy reading about the past and current history of the highways and towns, learning what there is to see and do plus where to eat and sleep then this is the travel blog for you.  If you like history, that is my expertise and I will be providing information on the towns and area as we journey down each highway.  Like to take road trips but don’t have the time or resources to travel as much as you would like?  Then join me, while we”Road Trip” across Texas from the comfort of your home.  Hopefully you will enjoy my highway commentaries about what there is to see and do, what is available along the way for lodging and dining and the monthly events in the area.  We will also journey down four or five more highways, visit the two National Parks in this area and skirt along the Mexican border before moving on to another fascinating region of this huge state. 

This is going to be a long blog and hopefully will turn into an e-book or two or three along the way.  If you are looking for something or just have a question, please feel free to ask.  If I don’t know the answer I will do the research for you and find it.  Better yet if you have a story, picture or comment you would like to add to the blog PLEASE feel free to do so.