Orlando to Monticello (July 6)
We started our road trip to California with an easy day - Orlando to Monticello. Monticello is a small town a few miles from Tallahassee which we have visited before. We stayed at a classic Bed and Breakfast, "The John Denham House". Our host, the owner Pat, plied us with wine and heavy hors d'oevres at happy hour, which was more than enough for an evening meal.
Monticello to Tupelo (July 7)
We had originally planned to stop in Montgomery, Alabama, but we decided to press on as the weather was good and we were making good time. We made it as far as Tupelo,Mississippi before deciding we had had enough for one day. Tupelo is the town where Elvis was born.
The house where Elvis was born in 1935
The church which he attended as a boy and where he learned to sing gospel.
A statue of Elvis aged 13, the age when he and his family left Tupelo for Memphis
Tupelo to Memphis (July 8)
We headed for Graceland as soon as we arrived in Memphis and took the tour of his house.
Graceland,which Elvis puchased in 1957 and used until his death in 1977.
The living room, the first room you see on the right as you enter.
The dining room, across the hall from the living room
The billiards room, also in the basement. The walls and ceiling are covered with material.
His private plane,the Lisa Marie
Our next stop was the famous Sun Records in Memphis, where Elvis got his start as a recording artist.
The front of the recording studio. Behind Kris is a snack bar and cafe, which hasn't changed since the 1950's. The actual studio (which is to the left of where Kris is sitting, behindthe white blinds) was converted into many things,including a laundromat, after Sam Phillips moved his studio to another location in Memphis. It was "rediscovered" in 1987 and reopened as a recording studio and tourist attraction.
The snack bar and souvenir shop adjoining the recording studio.
Snack bar and souvenir shop, the only part of the complex which hasn't changed much since the 50's
The original Sun Studio where Elvis was discovered, now full of tourists. After the tourists leave, it's used as a recording studio
That evening, we went to dinner on the famous Beale Street, where blues was played and discovered by people like Sam Phillips and Elvis Presley in the 1950's. It's pretty touristy now, but you can still hear blues blasting out onto the street from some of the old bars and restaurants.
We ate the local specialty, barbeque, as we had been recommended. It was good, but no better than we had experienced before. Perhaps every city thinks that THEIR barbeque is the best. We were going to stay longer and listen to the music, but it was trying to rain and the clubs required ID to get in. As Paul didn't have his with him, we gave up for the evening and went back to the hotel.
Memphis to St Louis (July 9)
We started in St Louis with The Arch, which commemorates the great westward expansion, much of which began here. The arch itself is very impressive.
Underneath the arch is a Visitors Center with several movies being shown and a museum. However the highlight is the tram which takes you to the top of the arch. We paid for our tickets and then waited for an hour until it was our turn to board the tram. At the last minute, Paul chickened out and couldn't face getting into the tiny, windowless capsule which takes you up to the top. So we still haven't see the view from the top. I suppose claustrophobia is something I just have to deal with. (Kris chickened out as well, but I think she was just being supportive.)
Door Number 2 - I just couldn't face what was behind Door Number 2.
We spent some time in the Visitors Center and we did get to see an IMAX film about Louis and Clark which we would have missed if we had gone to the top.
St Louis to Independence (July 10)
Before leaving St Louis, we took a tour of the Fox Theatre - a spectacular cinema built in 1928 as a true "Picture Palace" and adorned with the most amazing decorations.
The Fox Theatre from the street
The main foyer of the Fox Theatre
The main chandelier (with over 5000 jewels) in the center of the ceiling (note the "sky" effect above the chandelier)
The ceiling of the auditorium
The auditorium from the stage
A stained glass panel in the ceiling of the ladies "lounge" Note that she is smoking, which was allowed in the ladies lounge
Sadly, the great depression started soon after the theatre was opened and the owner (Fox) went bankrupt. After changing hands several times, the theatre clsoed in in 1978 but fortunately was purchased by a property developer who wanted to save it. After extensive renovation, the Fox reopened in 1981 and now is used mostly for travelling Broadway productions.
After leaving St Louis, we were diverted by signs to a "Churchill Museum" in Fulton, Missouri. In 1948, Churchill gave a famous speech in Fulton warning that an "Iron Curtain" had descended across Europe and warning that action must be taken if the world (in particular the English speaking world) was to remain free.
In the early 1960's, the college where the speech was given, Westminster College, decided they would like to start a museuem about Churchill and to top it off, they purchased a bombed out London Church built by Sir Christopher Wren and shipped it to Fulton, where it was restored and now is used as the college chapel.
The Church of St Mary, destroyed in the blitz and brough to the US where it was lovingly restored
A statue of Churchill giving his "Iron Curtain" speech
A carbon copy of Churchill's original notes for his "Iron Curtain" speech
And so, finally, on to Independence, the home of Harry Truman.
Independence to Omaha (July 11)
We started in Independence at the Harry Truman Presidential Library.
The main entrance of the Library. The "Spies & Lies" posters were for a special exhibition
As with most of these libraries, there is a section on the man before becoming President and then a section on his Presidency.
Unusually, at this library, there was the President himself, still pleased at beating Dewey!
Kristine meets Harry Truman himself.
A replica of The Oval Office as it was when Truman was President
The original "The Buck Stops Here" sign from Truman's desk
And the graves of Harry and Bess Truman in the grounds of the Library
Then we went to take a tour of the Truman Home in Independence. It was originally owned by Harry's wife's grandfather who built it in 1885.
The Truman Home in Independence, MO
Truman lived here before he became President and visited as often as he could once he became President. He retired here and although he died in hospital, he lived here up until he was taken ill. His wide, Bess, died here.
No photos are allowed inside the house but it is a fairly modest but elegant home, much like Truman himself.
The Vaile Mansion
We took a tour of this grand Victorian Mansion. Built by Colonel and Mrs. Harvey Vaile in 1881, the 31 room mansion includes 9 marble fireplaces, spectacular painted ceilings, flush toilets, a 6000 gallon water tank and a wine cellar.
The front of the building
The main entrance
Finally, in Independence, we went to find the railway station where Truman ended his (successful) Presidential campaign, but instead, we found the renovated original depot, not in it's original location, but looking as good as new.
The original Independence train depot
We then drove on to Omaha, NB, where we spent the night.
Omaha to Wewela (July 12)
Next day, we drove from Omaha to Wewela, which is just over the border in South Dakota. We were looking for our friend Shelley Alexander's cousin Mick and his wife Marylynne. Shelley had warned them we were coming, but we had never met, so neither they (nor we ) knew what to expect. They are farmers and when we arrived Mick was bailing. Marylynne greeted us and we chatted on the porch until Mick arrived. Marylyne had to go to work at a local bar and restaurant, so Mick showed us around the farm.
Mick shows us how a circular bale is made
A view of some of Mick & Marylynne's land
Cow Camp, where our friends Shelley and Theresa stayed
After the tour, Mick took us to the bar and restaurant where Marylynne works and very kindly bought us dinner.
Mick enjoying a beer after our tour
Dinner is served (Marylynne was working!)
We stayed the night at Mick & Marylynne's home (in the spare room, not Cow Camp, I'm happy to say) and next morning headed on our way.
Wewela to Murdo (July 13)
We left Mick and Marylynne and headed for Mitchell to see the famous Corn Palace. Sadly, it was being renovated and redecorated, so there wasn't as much to see as we had hoped. However, the decorations made entirely from natural colored corn, are still unique.
Then on to Murdo, a small town of no particular interest, but a comfortable motel.
Murdo to Sturgis (July 14 and 15)
After leaving Murdo, our first stop was Wall Drug.
Wall Drug seems to have invented marketing in the 1930's and has advertised all over the world, including the London Ungerground. It may not have brought many customers directly, but the free publicity has certainly worked. Now it's a general store selling just about everthing that a tourist might want.
Jackalopes. Are they real or not? Kristine still isn't quite sure.
The original "Wall Drug". The founder was actually a pharmacist who in an effort to keep his business going started advertising on billboards from Chicago to Wall and then ultimately all over the world.
Making new friends everywhere I go
From Wall, it's only a short drive to a complete contrast of The Badlands National Park.
The entrance to The Badlands
The scenery is so amazing is almost "other worldly" - like being on the moon.
A moonscape - not of this world
More of the amazing rock formations.
Leaving The Badlands, we drove on to the Black Hills of South Dakota and our first stop was the very famous and very iconic Mount Rushmore.
The classic view - State flags flying below
A close up begins to reveal a few "rough edges" as well as flaws in the rock
And a close up of Lincoln shows how much was left unfinished.
After Gutzon Borglum died, the money ran outand his sons cleaned up the memorial as best they could, but it was never finished. The model they were working from shows how much was left incomplete.
Borglum's final working model
Next day, we went to see another unfinished monumental sculpture. This one, started in 1948, is still under construction. It's a giant statue of Crazy Horse, the indian chief.
The statue today. The horse's head is drawn on the rock to the right
The finished model with the actual mountain in the background. After sixty six years, still a long way to go..
The only finished part - the face
After Crazy Horse, we went to Wind Cave National Park.
Wind Cave National Park is an extensive cave network with only one natural entrance. When the air pressure changes, wind blows into or out of the hole.
This is the orginal "wind hole" - when we were there, we could feel a strong cold breeze coming out of the hole.
At one time, the natural entrance was blasted open so visitors could get in more easily, which partially destroyed the "wind cave" effect, but now the man made entrances are sealed and elevators carry visitors underground.
Now concrete trails and steel walkways make an underground tour much easier.
It's a dry cave, so there are no stalactites or stalagmites, but the roof formations can be interesting.
Some of the early visitors signed their names on the walls (how original !) Now it's a Federal offence.
For the last part of the day, we took a steam train (the 1880 Train, although it's not actually from the 1880's)
(For the nerds amongst you, it's a 2-6-6-2T articulated Mallet built in 1928 by Baldwin)
The train goes from Hill City to Keystone (and back) through some very pretty Black Hills scenery. The big attraction, through, is to travel on a train pulled by a real Choo Choo!
The engine burns used motor oil, so it isn't smoke free.
Here it's returning from Keystone to Hill City
And apart from a quick trip to Walmart, that was the end of another interesting day.
Sturgis to Gillette (July 16)
We detoured off the freeway to visit Devil's Tower which was made famous in the 1970's by the film "Close Encounters" where it was depicted as a landing strip for an alien spacecraft. From the contents of the gift shop, that film has largely been forgotten. It is often climbed and we saw two different groups climbing the day we were there. We were satisfied just walking around the base.
Devils Tower, Wyoming (The name seems to have been as a result of a misunderstanding between the first explorers and the local indians)
On the way up to the tower was Prairie Dog town. They aren't dogs (of course) and they can be aggressive, but they are cute!
A prairie dog near Devils Tower
Gillette to Cody July 17
Not much to see in Gillette and next day we pushed on to Cody and beyond. Cody is actually quite an interesting town with a famous museum, but we wanted to get on to our hotel between Cody and Yellowstone. Apart from a stop to buy some food and some bad wine, we kept going. The hotel was actually a ranch (with horses) but as neither of us ride, it was an opportunity to relax.
The Bill Cody Ranch, just outside Yellowstone National Park
Next day, we drove on to Yellowstone National Park.