7am we hit the road heading out of Chicago, our morning stop is at Belvidere Tollway Oasis, which is a food stop which is built bridging the highway.
Another couple of hours on the bus and we are passing through Wisconsin Dells, the whole area is waterparks and themed buildings there are roman coliseums, upside down white houses and roller coasters and waterslides.
Next is one of our longer driving stretches 4 hours into Saint Pauls, we stopped there to look at the Cathedral of St Pauls, as we turned off the highway on the side of the main road was a young homeless guy, about 20 years old very sad to see.
The Cathedral was beautiful and stood on a hill overlooking the city of Saint Pauls.
From there it’s just a half hour into Minneapolis and our hotel for the night, we dropped the bags got settled then headed back on the bus to go to the Mall of America.
When we got to the Mall we took one of the older guys on the tour to look for a smartphone as the camera on his had given up the ghost.
Mall was huge but really apart from the theme park in the middle of it not all that spectacular, good to have seen but I wouldn’t go out of my way to go back, we had dinner at the food hall.
We found the tram station and Aussie guy and his wife were also there waiting for the tram. Tram ride back was cool I always enjoy getting around like a local.
Friday and we are on the road again, first stop Saint James, a small town Mid USA, very much like our country towns as you drive to Wellington. Not a lot there we just stopped for a toilet break.
There are still lots of green fields and the countryside doesn’t look all that different from home, other than the vastness of it.
Our Lunch stop is the Wal-Mart in Mitchell in South Dakota, this Wal-Mart is massive it even has a tire centre in it; you can virtually buy anything here.
Our next stop was the famous Corn Palace, wow it really was corny, to be fair it was actually pretty interesting, sitting inside the stadium as the locals tell you about it with great pride was nice, it smelt like popcorn. The old tractors were pretty cool and seeing what a small town basketball stadium looks like was great.
On the road for a few more hours the landscape out the window is changing now becoming less green more grassland.
We stopped at the Chamberlain Rest area which has a view over the Missouri river and a tee pee monument.
We reached Pierre about 6.30 in the evening it was a long day in the bus.
Matt and I went exploring the town, we headed for the Capital Building and we were lucky enough to get there in time to have a look inside just before it closed, there was not a sole inside as we looked around, it was a magnificent building.
Pierre is a very quiet township hardly anyone out on the streets, lovely looking place, we saw the local football stadium and checked out some of the local car dealerships, seems in this part of the world its either a big pick up or a mustang, very cool.
It reminds me of many of the small towns featured in movies and TV.
Just when it seemed everyone in town drives a huge pickup truck, we spot a guy on a scooter at the traffic lights but he wasn’t entirely out of place as he was sporting a large side arm.
We had dinner at Guadalajara Mexican Restaurant on the main road, not bad food good service, loads of patrons wearing cowboy hats we know we are starting to get into cowboy country.
This is one little town I could easily spend some time in just relaxing, it would be great to go to a local football game here one day.
Saturday morning and another early start we hit the road again at around 7.30. Today we head off to Mount Rushmore
The country side is starting to change as green fields are giving away to dryer looking grasslands and some arid looking areas.
We stopped at the Badlands Trading Post, which is basically a gas station and souvenir shop in the middle of nowhere, its claim to fame are the little prairie dogs which live in the field next to the gas station. We grabbed some food and watched them for a bit before we hopped back aboard.
Next stop and the first of the natural wonders the USA has to offer, I was looking forward to seeing Matt’s reaction to these, it’s more his kind of thing.
As expected Matt was in his element, they encourage you to climb and explore so he took off to explore and climb up, great to see him enjoying himself and it encourages me to be a bit more adventurous that I would usually be. It’s so cool that they let you climb all over this place, would love to have had more time here. Most of the rest of the bus stick to the paths.
Got some great shots of this place it reminds me of the surface of the moon, the vivid blue sky being an obvious difference. This was our first taste of the natural wonders ahead.
We passed the Minuteman Missile Silo museum on the way to our lunch stop, a few of us blokes on the tour regretted that we were not stopping there, next time maybe.
Lunch at the Wall Drug store, this place was old school it had food & souvenirs of course but also entertainment for the family with some really quaint miniature Mt Rushmore Buffalo replicas and stuff like that.
After feeding and watering I went for a look around and found they had an arcade with loads of old machines in it, texted Matt to come have a look and we played some of the games, it was also a great place to grab some 1/4s from the change machine to add to my collection of states we have visited.
Later that afternoon we arrived at the Mt Rushmore memorial, it is every bit as spectacular as I expected and these Americans certainly know how to set up their national monuments.
Mick joined us on our exploration of the tracks leading around the base of Mt Rushmore. There are awesome little caves below the presidents where you look up at and can get a real feel for the sheer size of these sculptures.
There was some sort of Boy Scout gathering going on that weekend so there were busloads of scouts arriving, they are just like on the movies with their badges and US flags.
After we dropped the bags off at the Hotel in Keystone we headed into town to explore, eventually finding our way into the Red Garter Saloon to watch the gun show.
They had this guy who was seriously the tallest person I have ever seen in person and skinny as a rake, dressed up in cowboy gear and
looking like he had been on the ranch for decades.
We had a few beers here and waited for the show, It was a cheesy re-enactment of a gunfight in the saloon but I loved it, I was sitting at the bar and during the re-enactment the tall guy came and towered over me it was very cool.
Stayed on and listened to the music, I wondered if this was torture for Matt as country music isn’t exactly my thing let alone his, but whilst I don’t think either of us would admit it to anyone I enjoyed it and I think he did too, the shorter cowboy was actually quite good.
I liked this town, despite the fact it was very touristy it had a certain back country charm.
Sunday morning and again we are up at the crack of dawn. We stopped at some mall gas station with a Subway next door for the morning pee break.
We observed a moment of silence on the bus in remembrance of the 9/11 attacks.
A few hours later we stopped at the Wal-Mart Super Centre in Sheridan, this place is huge by far the biggest Wal-Mart we have been in, to me the town of Sheridan looked like it came directly out of the movie Footloose.
As we travel further west the country side is really starting to look less and less green and more like the USA of my imagination. We crossed over some ranges in the Bighorn National forest and were treated to some pretty great views of the surrounding area.
Afternoon stop is at the Elk View lodge, cool quad bikes for hire outside the lodge pity our stop here is just a few minutes. There is nothing but trees and fields for miles either direction of this place.
As we head toward Cody the scenery is really starting to change, seeing more muddy looking formations similar to the Badlands and much dryer looking fields and grasslands.
The area is also looking very hazy the closer we get to Cody as there has been some big forest fires and here they let them take their course as it is considered part of the natural order, apparently large chunks of Yellowstone burnt to the
ground a few decades back.
Arriving in Cody it’s quite surreal as the smoke in the atmosphere is so thick the sun has gone a blood red colour and you can smell the smoke in the air.
Tonight we are staying in cabins and in our cabin we got a room each which is a nice break from the twin share arrangement.
After dropping the bags we walked into Cody and checked out the township, classic Midwestern town with tidy brick buildings and loads of cowboy shops.
We had a really good look around the “Cowboy Palace” which is where I picked up my cowboy hat.
We also looked around an outdoors store called Sunlight sports; they had some amazing stuff available here for fishing camping and so on, loads cheaper than similar stores back home.
Dinner tonight is at Buffalo Bills Irma Hotel and this was quite an experience, real country pub atmosphere, with guys dressed in cowboy hats and spurs, actually spurs!
This is a great little pub loads of US flags everywhere and Western memorabilia on the walls, the meal was forgettable, so much so I can’t even remember what I had. Some of the other tour bus folk were in the other part of the restaurant. We apparently were sitting in kind of the local’s area opps.
Wandered back to the cabin and crashed early for the night.
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