Great Plains and Prairie Dogs

Last week, the Voyager finally made it out of Sin City, circled the Grand Canyon and visited the home of Heisenberg. In week seven the journey heads North, through colder climates and the Rockies for the last time as the group splits once more.

Day 43 – Santa Fe, NM

Our bedraggled arrival in Santa Fe marked the third-way point of our trip around America. It had taken us thirty-one days so we are pretty much on track to complete our journey before we get manhandled by savages with guns out of the country, baring any unforeseen circumstances…

It was high time that we did some housekeeping so we cleaned our minivans, then ourselves and visited the barbers before venturing into downtown Santa Fe. The Hispanic architecture, voodoo appreciation and laid-back atmosphere in the city epitomised the state as a whole. In fact Arizona and New Mexico were anything but the desert wastelands that I half expected. Both have a fascinating culture, rich history and many buildings, and indeed cities, that are pleasing on the eye.

Santa Fe

Santa Fe

Following our visit to, apparently, the oldest house in America – now complete with air conditioning and cable television – we completed our reposeful limited-driving-day by watching American Football, drinking beer and eating meat – Jessie excluded although we did sneak some giblets in her vegetarian burger. We even caught a taxi back to our lavish camping spot – Walmart car park… again.

Santa Fe

Day 44 – Santa Fe, NM to Aspen, CO

When Aaron and Jess crossed into the US just over a month ago they were forced, by the badge-wearing Neanderthals on the border, to hurriedly book flights out of the country that they did not want to take. This meant they could not visit every state and would need to split from Shu and I at some point along the trip. Today was that day.

Santa Fe

We planned a hopeful rendezvous in Chicago for my birthday in a couple of weeks time and said our goodbyes. By the end of the day we would be nearly one thousand kilometres apart from each other in extremely contrasting climates and extremely contrasting states. Shu and I headed North into state twelve, Colorado, passing the ten thousand kilometre mark along the way.

Ten Thousand Kilometres

New Mexico

As soon as you cross the border from New Mexico, the language, architecture and landscape changes dramatically. The desert sands turn into lush meadows and the free-spirited Mexicans turn into rich, white, pleasure-seekers. None more rich, white and pleasure-seeking than at our destination for today, Aspen – which my knowledge of stems from Dumb & Dumber.

The Road to Aspen

The Road to Aspen

To get there we had to crawl through deep canyons and traverse single-lane mountain passes. None more impressive than Independence Pass; which reaches over twelve thousand feet whilst its summit marks the American Continental Divide – a drop of water from one side would eventually enter the Pacific Ocean whilst a drop on the other would enter the Atlantic. I doubt that experiment has ever been carried out to fruition but I trust their logic.

Independance Pass

Independance Pass

We arrived in Aspen under the cover of darkness in near freezing temperatures whilst Jessie and Aaron, just a few hours drive away, were sweating profusely in thirty-plus degree heat in Texas. Got to love America.

Day 45 – Aspen, CO to Evergreen, CO

Waking up this morning brought back memories of car camping in Canada – it was pretty darn cold. Not cold enough for snow, however, which meant that Aspen was far quieter than in Winter; when it is transformed into the most popular ski resort in America.

Aspen

Aspen

At this time of year, Aspen is a superb location to watch the Fall leaves changing colour from green to orange to red and to buy ludicrous designer clothing. With the time and money to do neither we quickly exited stage right and found a bar on the way to Denver where we could watch Wales play England at the Rugby World Cup.

Wales Win!

No prizes for guessing who I was supporting and who indeed won the match. My joyous mood could not be stymied all the way to the outskirts of Boulder, where we camped, ate chilli and re-watched the game. One happy Welshman.

Day 46 – Evergreen, CO to Scottsbluff, NE

Having driven into Boulder, and today being a Sunday, a bar needed to be found to watch some American Football – The Dark Horse obliged. The interior of the pub was built like a wooden barn with countless small rooms, filled with interesting yet pointless junk, each with their own TV with a different game on. We found the Philadelphia Eagles room and enjoyed another sporting success, I was being spoiled.

Trying not to run over someone in Boulder is almost impossible. The area is renowned for extreme sport participation and extremely healthy people. As a result the roads in and around the city are lined with runners, cyclists, skaters and people doing just about every activity possible on a highway apart from driving, which does make a welcome change.

Boulder

We reached the Flatirons, a rock formation on the outskirts of town, without killing a single person and had lunch. On the slopes of the mountain we were put to shame by some of the fittest Americans you will ever come across – including toddlers that looked like they exited the womb running – before we headed North, out of Boulder, towards the slightly less conditioned state of Nebraska.

The Road to Scottsbluff

A quick Google search: What To Do In Nebraska; yielded fewer positive results than an English rugby team. Scotts Bluff National Monument, located inside the imaginatively named town of Scottsbluff, became a ‘must see’ Nebraskan landmark – a phrase that remained unused until this very moment. That excitement would await us tomorrow.

Blood Moon Eclipse

Day 47 – Scottsbluff, NE to Rapid City, SD

I believe I did Nebraska, and the Scotts Bluff National Monument in particular, a great disservice as it was actually well worth the visit – if you happen to be in North-West-North Nebraska. The park was virtually empty which allowed us free reign to mount plastic ox and wander off the designated trail without being fined – or worse – being forced to watch the two-hour long video presentation on the history of Scottsbluff at the tourist information centre.

Scotts Bluff

Scotts Bluff

Atop the bluff itself gave us our first proper view of the Great Plains that would be our home for the next two weeks or so – I must say it looks a riveting journey. Hundreds, if not thousands, of miles of spirit-level flat corn fields interrupted only by the odd farmhouse or shooting range or farmhouse turned shooting range. Places where conversation with the locals, due to the language barrier, would be non-existent and the odds of being attacked by a bison increase exponentially.

Scotts Bluff

Scotts Bluff

With little time to dwell we headed further North under glum skies that, all day long, looked like a dour Highland dusk; chasing one spot of blue azul on the horizon that never got any closer. Without any welcome sign or indeed any marking to suggest a change of state – you certainly couldn’t tell from the geography – we crossed into South Dakota and hastily made for Rapid City.

The Road to Rapid City

Day 48 – Rapid City, SD to Gillette, WY

Rapid City

What was a busy truck stop when we arrived last night was almost deserted when we arose this morn; nobody hangs around in Rapid City! We had a quick shower and dip in the hot tub at the local leisure centre before making the short trip to South Dakota’s major – near only – landmark, Mount Rushmore.

Mount Rushmore

As we caught a glimpse of Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt & Lincoln for the first time, we were struck by how small they appeared. I am not quite sure what we were expecting, possibly gargantuan heads that blocked out the sun and made you quiver in awe at a mere glance.

However, it was only on closer inspection that we could acknowledge the details and intricacies that the sculptors managed to incorporate into the rock-face. Which was even more impressive given the material they were working with was granite; one of the most in-malleable and robust substances on the planet.

Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore

We did not know a great deal about the four men enshrined upon the mountainside – George Washington and Abraham Lincoln necessitated ninety-nine percent of this limited knowledge – aside from the fact that countless Native American tribes were put to the slaughter under the governance of all of the men in front of us. We felt more than a little uncomfortable seeing them revered in such a way.

Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore

I imagine a similar feeling would resonate if a large granite monument was made incorporating the faces of Eden, Thatcher, Blair & Brown; imagine how much it would cost to clean the graffiti off of that one. We felt more at ease viewing, although from a fair distance, Crazy Horse; the even bigger granite memorial, yet to be completed, dedicated to the Native American’s most beloved son. We ended our day making a twilight crossing into our next state, Wyoming.

Crazy Horse

The Road to Gillette

Day 49 – Gillette, WY to Bismarck, ND

Devils Tower

We car camped about an hour’s drive from Devils Tower; the first proclaimed National Monument of the United States. The solidified magma tower commands the landscape for miles around and, having viewed many a rock formation over the last forty-nine days, it may have been the most impressive we have seen yet.

Devils Tower

Devils Tower Prairie Dogs

We followed a trail around the circumference of the tower with only prairie dogs and incredibly large, over-zealous insects to keep us company. The tourist season is most certainly drawing to a close; that means fewer Texan RV’s the size of houses, plus car in tow, blocking the highways in and around tourist sites – thank god. With nothing but flat plains and wilderness as far as the eye and sat-nav could see, a six-hour drive was required just to reach town and our next camping spot – Bismarck, North Dakota.

Devils Tower Prairie Dogs

The Road to Bismarck

Soon after leaving Devils Tower we saw an immense cloud on the horizon which, hour after hour, gradually grew larger and more threatening. Through the incessant crackling on North Dakota radio we managed to hear that a major storm was taking place in the South of the state. Hail was destroying cars, flash flooding was increasingly likely whilst lightning was a perpetual danger – and we were headed straight for it.

North Dakotan Storm

North Dakotan Storm

Or so we thought. Having reached Interstate 94 and turned East, we missed the super-charged, Yoda-looking – see photo below – storm cloud by a couple of miles. At least until we caught the remnants of it at 6:00am in Bismarck the following morn. If the minivan didn’t weigh approximately seventeen tonnes, we may have been swept off back to Vancouver. A small reminder that hurricane season has just begun.

North Dakotan Storm

Next week the Voyager continues its journey along arrow-straight highways, dodging Bison and prairie dogs, through the Great Plains and out the other side towards civilisation.

Total kilometres: 12,578

J

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