The weather was absolutely foul this morning. It was cold, raining and the wind was howling. Michael took Nyathi out for a test drive first thing and I stayed behind with all our stuff still waiting to be packed, out on the grass. It was freezing - I sat huddled down in the ditch with a drain culvert at my back to try and hide from the biting wind! The good news was that Michael said the diff sounded fine, but the bad news was that he would have to bleed the brakes on the front left.
We packed up as much stuff as we could while the rain slowed down to a drizzle. The Michael set about putting new seals in the brake callipers (in the lee of the vehicle) and I washed the dishes (which sounds easy but with the rain wetting everything and the wind whipping anything lighter than a pot about the place), it was no joke! I was thoroughly annoyed and freezing by the end of it. So, I climbed into the cab and got things neat and sorted ready for us to travel. Rob had arrived in the meanwhile and was helping Michael out. The brakes job was all sorted and we packed everything away properly. Rob was great - he took all our 'rubbish' away with him and Michael gave him our air wrench and sockets (as our air pressure isn't great enough to run it effectively) and he seemed really pleased with it.
Rob kindly gave us a jar of Saskatoon jam and then we went back to his house to have a fantastic hot shower to scrub away all the ingrained dirt and grease - what a pleasure, thank you. We stopped by Canadian customs to say goodbye to Rob, but he'd left for the day. The US customs officer was civil, but I wouldn't say she was welcoming. We stopped off in Great Falls to get some lunch and go to the supermarket to stock up for Yellowstone.
Michael took this picture of a 'view from the cab' to give an idea of our daily vista...
I drove for the afternoon and it was such a pleasure. The scenery was wonderful. It started with colourful fields of gold and green, with rainbow mountains jutting up into the sky in the distance. The remains of the storm clouds made it even more intense. Michael was sleeping, so I couldn't get any photos. I also love the typical country barns which dot the horizon.
Then the terrain become more mountainous and we drove through spectacular gorges with fast flowing, winding rivers. There were snow capped mountains and the sunset provided fiery skies as a backdrop and then the half moon started glowing on the opposite side, it was fantastic. We stopped for the night at a rest area about 50km from the Yellowstone Park entrance.
This morning we got to see how lovely the rest area was where we'd spent the night. It had dramatic hills and a winding river as the backdrop. The scenery on the way to the park gates was lovely (we saw three deer en route) and the little town of Gardiner, just before the park entrance was quite charming. We drove through the old entrance to the park, which was quite imposing. Yellowstone had it's last volcanic eruption about 640 million years ago and it spewed out almost 1,000 cubic kilometres of debris, forming a caldera 48 x 72 kilometres wide.
From the moment we entered the park we were impressed by the scenery and the number of fumaroles (steam vents) we could see rising up all around us (not to mention the wildlife, we saw a large herd of elk with males crowned with enormous antlers). We drove through Mammoth, where they have hot springs where two thousand tons of sulphuric material accumulates each year. We decided to head for a campground sooner rather than later because they are available on a first-come, first-served basis and we wanted to get a nice spot. We sussed out Indian Creek, which was lovely but a bit too far north and the rangers told us we were still early enough in the day to get our pick of sites at most of the campgrounds so we headed south to Norris, where we chose a campsite overlooking the river, where the bison congregate in the evenings and early mornings. It was $14 and there were flushing toilets and cold water taps available.
We put our table and chairs out to let people know the site was taken (you'd think there would be a better system - but anyway) and drove down to Norris Geyser Basin. We saw both the Steamboat and Echinus geysers. The latter had erupted at 10h30 so it was highly unlikely to go again in the next couple of hours and although Steamboat put on a small display, but there can be months / years between major eruptions, so we continued on our walk. It was incredible to see just how volcanic activity there was. There were steam vents all over the place and loads of bubbling pools and hot running rivers.
Our next stop was the Grand Prismatic Spring, where they claim 16,000 litres of water falls from the spring as waterfalls down into the Firehole River below. It was fantastic. Each spring has such a variety of colour and boils and spews at a different rate.
The whole place seems surreal with a everyone cloaked in sulphurous fumes strolling along the viewing boardwalks, taking in the sights.
We drove slowly through the park stopping at various geysers and hot springs. We saw lots of bison, including one that was so close to the vehicle I couldn't get all of him in the frame, even using a wide angle lens.
We also saw a coyote, who ran across the road in front of us, as well as elk and a falcon and quite a few geese. We arrived at the Old Faithful geyser complex at about 17h20, roughly 50 minutes before the next eruption was predicted. I went to sit down with a book and secure us a good viewing spot, while Michael sat in the car waiting for the small camera battery to charge. I went into the visitor centre and discovered that Beehive Geyser which erupts every 18 - 19 hours and is taller than Old Faithful was due to erupt in ten minutes. I ran back to the parking lot to fetch Michael and we arrived back just as Beehive started erupting through its cone.
The geyser was quite impressive and I have to say that afterwards, Old Faithful was somewhat disappointing. It may have been that we braved the pouring rain and cold wind for 20 minutes to wait for it and then of course the cloudy horizon did make for the best backdrop, but still, it was worth it!
We made our way back up to camp, stopping en route to watch some herds of bison grazing on the hillside. At Norris campground we met Stephen from Germany who has spent 3 years driving his Mercedes 1017, 12 ton truck through parts of Africa, Asia and most of North America and now he is headed south to Central and South America. He was very nice and took some time before he came and spoke to us, because he could see we had only just arrived and needed time to set up camp (he knows how we feel about the enthusiastic, but sometimes privacy-invading people, he normally travels with his pet pit bull terrier).
It was a cold evening and we were lazy about cooking and being outside, choosing instead to have snacks and watch more of the West Wing!
I was impressed with my dedication this morning (even if I say so myself :-). It was 6°C, windy and wet and I still went for a run. I passed two bison on my way out of the campsite and then when I was running on the main road I saw one right next to the road (less than 5 metres away) in amongst the trees and decided that was too close for comfort. I crossed the road and turned round to go back to camp. I was exhausted because of the altitude, but at least I got my heart rate going for 30 minutes!
I made us hot oats porridge for breakfast and then we headed off. We took the Canyon road east. We stopped off to take in the vistas of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. It was impressive and the variety of rock colours made it even more interesting. The first place we stopped had a viewing area which used to extend a further 30 metres into the canyon before it collapsed in the 1975 earthquake. Further up the canyon were the lower and upper falls, the former being more magnificent with a drop of over 100 metres.
The mud holes we visited weren't nearly as gloopy as I had expected them to be. They contained too much liquid to have a really squelchy look and feel. Nevertheless they were plentiful, stinky and still looked pretty foul...
We left the park via the east entrance, all the while seeing fumaroles puffing steam up into the cold morning air. Parts of the forested countryside had been blackened by extensive wild fires and it looked strange with blackened tree trunks surrounded by a dusting of white snow.
We drove through some pucker cowboy country. We stopped in Cody (Buffalo Bill's town) and we should have been wearing a Stetson to fit in more! Sadly, Irma's (the hotel named after BB's daughter in 1902) was not serving steak for lunch, so we headed on out.
We saw a big bull, female and calf moose grazing in the Bighorn National Forest. Some idiot decided it would be a great idea to run up to them as quickly as possible to get a photo, while we were try to watch them with our binoculars, by the time we got closer, he'd scared them and the three of them went running for cover into the forest!
We found a fantastic campground nestled in amongst the tree and next to the Little Tongue River. I made delicious pineapple chicken for dinner (with a few false starts as, at last, our gas ran out and then we couldn't get our spare bottle to connect too well). The last time we filled up was in Mauritania - that's impressive.
Despite the rain drizzling on and off, it wasn't too cold, but we ate our dinner inside as the rain began to come down a whole lot harder. We had a bottle of red wine (to keep off the chill of course) and relaxed to watch too many episodes of West Wing.
We heard the squirrels chattering first thing in the morning and the river tinkling away. We had nice hot washes and got on the road. We passed through some wonderful scenery with some ancient formations of rock, some dating over 500 million years old. There were also beautiful delicate wild flowers of which I couldn't resist taking a photo.
We drove through more countryside which reminded me of those old Western movies with Clint Eastwood and the like. We stopped in Custer and a smaller town to fill up with fuel. We took the lesser travelled Highway 16 and raced the very long coal trains (one of which we counted had 150 coaches and two engines) across the plains. With us travelling at 85km an hour we only just managed to keep up!
We stopped briefly to have a look at the work in progress of the massive Crazy Horse Carving, commissioned by a Sioux chief who stated that (after Mt Rushmore) the Indians, too had important people that they wished to honour and admire. The carving (when eventually complete) will measure 169m high by 192m long. It certainly is a massive undertaking, continued by the original sculptor's descendants. So far, only the face (standing 26m high) has been completed. The chief's hair, feather and horse are yet to be started. The thing we felt irked about was the policy of reverse racism they have in place. Native Indians do not have to pay the $9 each entrance fee like everyone else.
Mount Rushmore, not too far is away, although not as large as Crazy Horse, was still incredible. We climbed a hill nearby to try and get the best picture we could. Each face stands 18m high and it looks very imposing. It certainly is a draw card for South Dakota, which otherwise may be ignored by many tourists.
We stopped in Rapid City and treated ourselves (thanks to one of Andrew & Angela's little treat envelopes) to a tasty dinner at Sanfords. We both had thick hot soup to start (it was cold and windy out) and then we had steaks served with creamy mashed potatoes, beans and hot sourdough bread! Despite both leaving substantial quantities of meat for a 'doggy bag', we both felt stuffed! We drove for another hour or so and stopped at a rest are for the night.
We went to place called Wall Drug (in the unassuming town of Wall) today. It was suggested to me by the lady at the visitor centre. It had an interesting history, which is what intrigued me about it. During the depression a pharmacist opened a small drug store in Wall, but for five years they made very little money until one day, his wife had the bright idea of offering free ice water to lure thirsty travellers off the road and into their store. They have never looked back. They still offer free iced water and sell good cups of coffee for just 5 cents. They seem to work on the premise of making a little bit of money off of a lot of people, instead of the other way around. Wall Drug is now a souvenir hunter's Mecca. It has absolutely everything western you could dream of and loads of memorabilia, books and of course, a chemist! We enjoyed wandering around and I had a hot chocolate and Michael a 5c coffee and a slice of blueberry pie.
Then we drove through the Badlands National Park ($10 per car entrance fee, but we used our NP card). It was a rather weird landscape which has been eroded into cones and valleys and all manner of shapes. It reminded us of a less dramatic version of Bryce Canyon. Unfortunately the weather was still pretty cold and windy which didn't make for great walking weather.
We could hear a slight whining which sounded like it could be a wheel bearing. We stopped, jacked up each of the tyres in turn and checked the wheels for movement. We found the middle right to be looser than we'd have liked. We opened it up and took it out to check it. It looked ok and we didn't want to do too big a job in the viewpoint car park, so Michael tightened it up and we put the wheel back on. We took the opportunity to check and top up all the diff oils too. It wasn't the nicest to be doing it in the fierce wind, which blew any drips of oil all over the place, invariably on us and whisked away any items it could, which sent me chasing after them.
Also, Nyathi's squeaky noise (which sounds like a rubber bush squeaking under pressure) is beginning to happen more frequently, especially as we take off. We have looked for what it could be and cannot find anything, so, yet again, we'll just have to wait and see. PLUS there's a clunking noise when we go over bumps, but I think we narrowed the cause down to the middle shock absorber, so that make's me feel better. We'll sort it when we get a chance, but for the moment we tried to relax and take in the views.
Just outside the park we stopped at an old farm house where they had a colony of prairie dogs on the surrounding farm land. They were incredibly cute little animals, but rather fat from all the nuts (which you can buy for 50c at the farm store) which people have been feeding them - we simply couldn't resist!
We drove on into the night and got pulled over by a policeman for having a faulty tail light. He was very pleasant and told us we should drive with our hazard lights on until we stopped for the night and then we should get it fixed. We stopped at the next rest area, we were tired anyway...
The scenery has been among the least spectacular we have seen for a while. It certainly isn't ugly, but just not particularly inspiring with field after field of corn interspersed every now and again with a bright crop of sunflowers, or pastures with grazing cattle.
We discovered that two of the rest areas en route offered free wireless internet access. It worked perfectly and we were most impressed. The only problem was we thought there would be more further along and that we could do some internet catching-up in the evening, and there weren't.
We spent the majority of the day wandering in Walmart and a home hardware store called Menards. It's amazing how we soon develop a list of things we need to buy, which, while rather mundane, are either essential or make our lives easier... Food, electrical wire connectors, flat steel rod to create a shelf for the up/down transformer (as it's getting hot where it sits on a shelf now), a new vice, a cordless keyboard (as despite me taking the last one completely apart and cleaning it, it still doesn't work as well as it did before it got cooldrink dripped on it), gear oil, engine oil washing cloths, etc. etc.
We got a delicious lunch of rotisserie chicken with potato salad and wedges. However, eating lunch in a shopping centre parking lot is never a quick thing as so many people stop and ask questions about the vehicle, the trip or simply holler across to us "hey, what is that thing".
I drove in the evening and there was a fantastic, bright red sunset behind us, but sadly it had lost its brilliance by the time we found a spot to stop and take a photo. We stopped at rest area about 40km west of the town of Davenport. We got our daily dose of West Wing and crawled into bed.
(I am beginning to get really frustrated about not being able to run very often, but with the really awful weather we've been having and staying overnight in built up areas, it isn't very easy. Tomorrow, we are going to stay at a campsite with showers!)
So we didn't make it to a campsite for the night, but we did find a lovely rest area with loads of space, trees and an excellent welcome centre for Michigan. We spent a very pleasant day driving around Chicago. It was their annual triathlon, so the roads were a bit of a mess, with parking restricted too. The city has a very upbeat vibe, it looks wonderful and does (as everyone says) have a a fantastic skyline. It has loads of space for recreational activities and there were people everywhere playing on the beaches, walking, running, skating, riding bicycles - it reminded me of Venice Beach, CA.
The shores of Lake Michigan are dotted with marinas, the boats heaving in the surprisingly choppy water. You have to keep reminding yourself it isn't a sea! The museums looked impressive and the aquarium was flanked by huge carved whales. I took a picture of this museum while we were driving by...
I spent some time wandering about the shops, while Michael connected to the internet, downloaded emails and did some research etc. We decided not to stay in the city for the night, instead opting for a couple of days peace and quiet on the shores of a lake somewhere...
I went for a great run this morning. It was a bit weird having a 'shower' afterwards in my bikini, with the odd car driving into the parking area, but I am sure people have seen stranger things...
We stopped at a few places on the way up to Grand Haven. Holland was a very interesting town, with immaculate gardens, bronze statues and a strong sense of history and pride.
Settled by a group of 60 Dutch immigrants in the 1840's, Holland wasn't much more than an insect-infested swamp. Today, over 110,000 people live there and the community is thriving. We went to a few shops and then made our way up to Grand Haven, where we opted to stay at Camper's Paradise, a private campground about 2km south of the town and about 2km from the lakeside. (There is a state park on the lakeshore, but it costs $28 to stay the night, versus $20).
We found ourselves a nice, shady camp site and I made us chicken pineapple casserole for dinner. We sat outside relaxing and enjoying the warm, starry night.
It was my birthday today and I had an absolutely terrific one. Michael gave me the most thoughtful card and wrote me one of the best messages, ever! When I get to Barrie (where we've swapped out one of our timeshare weeks) I am being treated to a massage and facial (a girl has to have her treats)!
I went for a run down to Lake Michigan and had a great hot shower afterwards. Then we relaxed for a while and I made a big fry-up breakfast (well, lunch actually). We spent the afternoon lying in the sun reading.
We took our bikes off Nyathi's roof so we could cycle into town, but discovered we had lost one of the pedals (which we take off so they lie flatter) from my bike. Lesley, the campground owner (Campers Paradise), kindly lent us her bike (after we unsuccessfully looked at some old bikes she had in the shed to see if one of the pedals would fit my bike). The ride was very pleasant, if a little hilly to start and we regretted not bringing the camera with us. We rode along the lake path and then down the river to a little restaurant called Snug Harbour.
We got a table on the balcony overlooking the river. While the service from our waitress was appalling, the setting was terrific and the food quite tasty. We got to see the nightly display of musical fountains across the way, which was pleasant. We took a different route back through town and avoided the hills (which was welcomed as we both felt pretty stuffed).
When we got back to camp we watched the last two episodes of West Wing, while our food settled a little and then went off to bed.
We had an enjoyable late start to the morning. I went for a good run and we put the first load of laundry on. The weather wasn't a great as yesterday, in fact a bit chilly. We had another big breakfast (late lunch) and began doing a few odd jobs on Nyathi. We have had to move the transformer because it was getting too hot sitting on the carpeted shelf. Michael made a hanging bracket for it and we installed it next to the inverter. It is a bit of a pain with the different voltages, but at least we have a solution and so far, we haven't exploded anything!
When we still had our built-in freezer, there was a perfect spot for the keyboard to sit safely on top of it, but now, there isn't a convenient place to store it and more than once it comes flying forward and lands on the floor - not great! So, having just bought a new one, we have a new storage solution. We are going to velcro it just above the driver's door, so if the 'navigator' is sleeping the driver can still access the keyboard easily to zoom in/out of the GPS map or select better music! I set about measuring up and gluing it into place. Michael put in some self-tapping screws for good measure! I cleaned out the freezer, we cleaned the mattress and the tent area and Michael did a few other things. I am not sure how, but we both got quite dirty - what's new?
We only intended staying until 18h00 and then driving in the evening, but things took longer than we thought, so we decided to take it easy and stay the night. Karen (who works at the campground) brought us some delicious Boston Brown Bread which her mother had made, which was so lovely of her. We have decided to save it for tomorrow, as we don't have any cream cheese or butter, which are the traditional accompaniments.
Because we ate lunch so late we weren't feeling very hungry, so we watched a bit of the background to West Wing and went to bed.
We were up quite early. I went for a run and Michael put the new shock absorbers in on the middle axle. We packed up, I quickly washed Michael's dirty (new) shorts an T-shirt and then we hit the road.
We spent a while trying to find a place to fill our propane gas bottle. You apparently have to have a special overfill valve fitted on your cylinder (which we don't have), but the guy at ProGas just south of Grand Haven, told us we could be filled as a 'plumber's pack', which he gladly did for $6.50!
We stopped at a lovely great area en route and sat in the sun and phoned few people in the UK. We drove to a big outlet centre in Birch Run, Flint where we searched for squash trainers for Michael with absolutely no success. However, I got a few great (very cheap $2.60) shirts from The North Face shop.
We stopped for the evening at a very pleasant rest area. We watched Against All Odds on DVD. It was not a great movie, its only redeeming feature were the sights of Mexico, which were so familiar to us!