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Monday, November 2, 2015

THOSE HUGE ROCKY HEADS


It is time to head south before the snow really sets in. We have been amazingly blessed with such mild, sunny weather. From Thompson we head directly south. When we stop for coffee beside a little lake John gets chatting (as he does) with a local who is fishing & discovers the best place to buy smoked fish is at Smiths in Gimli. So that is the direction we will take to Winnipeg. After some more research I decide we should turn east earlier & pop in to see Hecla Provincial Park. But first we overnight at Little Limestone Lake – gorgeous spot right beside the water – way to chilly to sit outside by a fire. A huge driving day follows with more flat farmland – finally reach Hecla Island via a causeway & bridge. What a gorgeous spot. It was settled by peoples from Iceland and would be the prettiest, greenest & cleanest spot we have seen so far.  There are cute old houses set along the lake front. Even the new ones have a real Scandinavian look. As we are exploring we meet Kelvin & Brenda, who invite us to their place for coffee. Always great to talk to the locals and find out more about the place. Kelvin goes out fishing each day – he says he would take John, but it is way too cold! They no longer stay in town over winter, but it sounds freezing. And ice fishing!!!! Brrr. After a fun few hours we park nearly over the road at the boat jetty. Wake to a windy, freezing morning. Just as well John didn’t go out – by the time we have explored town Kelvin is back. After another coffee we head off with the freezer full of free fish. Thanks Kelvin

On to Gimli - another Icelandic town on the lake. Most places are closed up for the winter and nearly all the boats are up in dry dock. After exploring town we find Smiths shop & get some smoked fish for John.

Time to head on to Winnipeg. A few people have said “Why go there, there is nothing to see”, and others have said “there is an amazing new glass museum to see.” So as it is on our route we are going there. First port of call: The Museum of Human Rights. The building is over the top spectacular – an amazing glass tower filled with alabaster ramps. There is heaps of parking so we head in. Fortunately we get seniors reduced rates at $12 ea. But in the end there is way too much reading for us & then too many high tech gadgets to play with. The best part is the incredible view from the top. Time for the Pinder special – our very own driving tour of the central city ending at the Manitoba Legislative Building. Even though it is 5pm we can still wander around – it is too late in the season for tours. Then it is time to head to Hotel Walmart for a city stay.

The usual errands the next morning. The cheapest diesel in town, water & dump station. Time to head to the Mint. Free entry & self guided tour! Here they stamp coins for over 80 Countries. Today they are making Hong Kong & NZ coins (and yes they make Australian coins too)

Then we get onto the motorway & head south to The US of A. Easy border – only a few questions & we are through. No inspection for GR2. Continue on the motorway through fields ploughed ready for winter. Finally turn & head east on the scenic No 2 route, eventually stopping for the night right beside Devils Lake – in a gravel pit. Great sunset over the lake. 

Around the lake and back onto Highway 2 passing Rugby - a town famous for being the Geographic Centre of North America, them Minot - famous for its Scandinavian heritage – we stop at the gorgeous Visitor centre to admire the Stave Church, the huge wooden horse (exactly like our small one at home that we got in Sweden. A quick stop to get our wheels rotated, costing a mere $15. Then back on the road  passing 1000’s more oil rigs with gas pipes burning (we later met a guy who worked on the oil pipeline – he told us all the gas is burned off – seems such a waste!) At New Town we stop at the lookout for great views of Lake Sakakawea, and then as it is getting late, and all back roads head to oil fields, we decide to head in to the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Dinner is nearly ready when the ranger appears and sends us in to the campground – 5 miles down the road. Very slow miles as there are so many deer on the road.

Despite it been a chilly morning we head off early in the hope of seeing more wildlife – and yes we are rewarded with lots of deer, bison & even 2 young big horn sheep. We walk to some great view points over the badlands – but boy is it chilly. Glad we have those fleecy trousers! Finally back out of this section of the park and south through more oil area, lots of trucks and rolling hills. We are now heading in to the South Unit of the same National Park. There are a few scenic drives – so we set off on the first- a dirt road – The Custer Trail Auto Tour. Then in to the National Park itself – right into the badlands again. It is not so cold so we get out and do a few walks. We also see wildlife. My top favorite – the massive Prairie Dog Towns. I could spend ages watching these little guys running around, playing & screaming warnings to each other – they are hilarious. Take way too many pictures of them. It is getting late so we pull in to the Nat Pk campground for the night. We really shouldn’t quibble at paying a measly $7.

Wake to frosts this morning. A bit more exploring in the park Plus more time watching another Prairie Dog Town. Back at Medora check out the Visitor Centre – read all about President Roosevelt & look at his cabin. Yes he did stay out here for a while, and he was responsible for setting up lots of Nat Pks as well as this one. Anyway time to move on.

Lots and lots of flat prairies. And of course miles of straight road. And tiny towns. Cross into South Dakota & then Wyoming again. We are going to detour across country a bit to see Devils Tower. As it is getting dark we finally find a car park beside an old coal mine. It is always harder to find an overnight spot when the land is all farmed. It is a surprisingly quiet spot – in the morning we discover why. The town up the road has a population of 5!

Finally on to Devils Tower. It looks amazing sticking out of the farmland. Great 2km walk around the base stopping to chat to lots of people and also to watch the squirrels playing. Then of course back in to South Dakota to visit the Black Hills area. This area must be pumping in summer – there is so much touristy stuff to do, lots of motels & campgrounds (all closed now of course). We drive the much touted Spearfish Canyon and find it rather hoo hum (I think we have been spoiled with so much great scenery) then stop and look at the massive gold/silver/nickel mine in Lead. Then the touristy Wild West town of Deadwood. Again chock full of restaurants, shops, casinos & hotel. Not really our scene. Finally find a regional park with a few tent spots open (most of the areas are closed) – great to have another roaring fire again.

Wake to rain – Yuk! By the time we reach Hill City we decide to stop at the Visitor Centre & use their Wifi. A great chance to do some work & update the blog. Decide to go out for lunch – hopefully the rain will have stopped by then. We join Brian, who we met at the Visitor Centre, and chat about travelling. He is driving an electric car around the States. He has set a world record for the most miles driven in one trip. By now the sun is shining & we head off. First to Crazy Horse Memorial – a huge statue of Crazy Horse (the Indian leader) – that is still a work in progress. At over $20 to get in and see not much more we decided to just view it from the road. It will be amazing when it is complete in the next xxxxx no of years. Our next destination is Mt Rushmore. There are a few scenic routes along the way, but we have narrowed it down to Iron Mountain Rd. One way is closed because a bridge is down and another has a tunnel that we will not fit through. So we head off. It is one of those magic drives that we love. Narrow and winding, with lots of rock hewn tunnels that we only just squeeze through, plus a first for us – pigtails. These are roads that do a full loop – on one of them we pop out of a tunnel, cross a wooden bridge, and then go around underneath the bridge.

As we get nearer there are viewpoints of the Heads – but clouds are rolling in. Bother. We decide to bite the bullet, pay our parking fee & head in. We will just have to wait there until the cloud goes. Very soon I hope as it is after 5pm & pretty blimmin’ cold. Finally the clouds trail away…We decide to do the close up walk – really an up the nostrils walk. The sun has set by the time we return & we get to see the heads lit up for the night. Time to find a camp spot. We find a Walmart at the nearest big town, set the GPS and head there. It is well and truly dark by the time we arrive and join a group of motor homes already camped here.

Coming soon: where we go depends on the weather.

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