Month: August 2017

Our next destination was the International Peace Garden on the U.S./Canada border.  This 3.65-square-mile park gives North Dakota the designation of “The Peace Garden State.”  On the way to the Peace Garden, we had to make a brief stop in Dunseith, ND.

Yes, the kitsch keeps a-coming on this trip.  This is the W’eel Turtle, made of over 2,000 steel wheel rims welded together.  It sits on the Turtle Mountain Plateau (a larger area than its resting place here) and is the world’s largest man-made turtle.  Kitsch, for sure!

After that enlightening experience, we headed for the Peace Garden.  The Peace Garden is not part of any country and lies between North Dakota and Manitoba.  Visitors from either country can enter the park without restriction; however, it is necessary to go through immigration procedures to return to or to visit either the U.S. or Canada.  Of course, it wasn’t that simple.  North Dakota is one of the states that has two seasons:  winter and road construction.

Ten miles from the Peace Garden, we had the pleasure of watching this guy for 35 minutes while waiting for the escort vehicle.  North Dakota is flat.

Four or five miles closer to the Peace Garden, we spent about 20 minutes watching this more creative guy (sideways sign) while we waited for the second escort vehicle.

At the entrance to the Peace Garden, there is a plaque mounted on the cairn between the flags.  It reads:  “To God in his glory, we two nations dedicate this garden, and pledge ourselves that as long as men shall live, we will not take up arms against one another.”  This is how world peace begins.

Just inside the garden are seven peace posts, each of which says “May peace prevail on earth.”  Each post is inscribed in a different language.

A little farther into the park is a garden with a sculpture of a peace dove.

Over 150,000 flowers are planted in the garden each year.

More flowers on the grounds.

Ted and I had a quiet, peaceful walk through the park, with its flowers, water features, and symbols of peace.

A 14-bell carillon chimes the quarter hours in beautiful tones.

The peace chapel is at the far end of the park (about a mile from the entrance).

The chapel is very reverent and truly brings the visitor a sense of peace.  The inside perimeter walls are inscribed with notable quotes about peace.

This is one of the inscriptions from a chapel wall.

Plutarch lived c. AD 46-120.  Unfortunately, his words are still true.

Some of the building remains of the World Trade Center attacks of September 11, 2001 have been placed in the garden as a memorial to that tragedy.

Ted and I felt such peace in this garden.  I wonder if world peace could become a reality if everyone in the world regularly visited a place like this.

P.S.  More than two weeks after visiting the International Peace Garden, we received a letter and a season pass to the garden in the mail.

Just in case we go back to the Peace Garden before the end of the year.  The pass expires December 31, 2017.

Yes, Bismarck provided so much fun for Ted and me, I have to tell the story in three parts!

Following the North Dakota Heritage Museum and the State Capitol, Ted and I thought a river cruise would give us a chance to rest our feet.  We bought tickets for a two-hour cruise on the Missouri River.  (Where Lewis and Clark sailed.)  We were right:  the weather was beautiful, the crowd was in a good mood, and cruising up and down a pretty stretch of river was very relaxing.

Here’s our boat.  Gotta love the fake paddle wheel on the side.  The cruise was (surprisingly, to us) sold out.

Here’s the crowd on the lower (but open) deck.

The girl sitting across from us had glitzy shoes.

Two North Dakotans relaxing on the river in their kayaks.

Who doesn’t want a boat with a slide that lets you splash into the river?

We’re having so much fun on this vacation.  (And we’re getting better at selfies.)

We had a wonderful time in Bismarck and finished the day with a delicious dinner at Mackenzie’s.

It was going on 9:00, so most people were finished eating.  The patio seating was tempting, but the air was cooling rapidly after the late northern sunset.

The Dakotas apparently consider themselves to be Western, and the restaurant decor supports that concept.

More Midwestern adventures are coming tomorrow, I’m sure.

Fortified by our shared scotcheroo at the Heritage Museum, Ted and I crossed the street from the museum to the State Capitol.  This is one of four State Capitols that does not have a dome.  Can you name the other three?  The answer is at the end of this post.

Look, Ma–no dome!  The building houses all state offices and the state supreme court. Dome-free capitols provide a far more efficient use of space than domed buildings.  In my opinion, it’s not that North Dakota is short of space–it’s that Scandinavians tend to be frugal.

We were in time for the guided tour.  Our guide was passionate about architecture and made the tour very interesting.

The Capitol elevator doors (four sets) present a pictorial history of North Dakota.

Not much was being done in either house of the legislature; their work for 2017 is long finished.  ND’s legislature meets biennially–and efficiently–in odd years.

The Monkey Room in the Capitol is named for the appearance of its California walnut wall panels.  The California walnut tree is now listed as seriously endangered, so it is very rare. What do you see in this section of the wood?  (My apologies for the reflection–the wood was highly varnished.)

The tour took us to the top floor and this view of the front grounds.  An outdoor deck circles the top floor and used to be open to the public.  Sometimes kids would throw snowballs from the top.  When someone spoiled the fun and changed to dropping rocks, the deck was closed.

Here’s another view from the top floor.  The building with the white tower (right center) is the Catholic church we saw from Fort Lincoln.  The haze in the sky is from the Montana wildfires.  The Missouri River flows through Bismarck.  Lewis and Clark were here.

The ground floor of the Capitol has a North Dakota hall of fame.  It’s a given that Lawrence Welk is included.  My dad used to say, “People laugh at Lawrence, and Lawrence laughs all the way to the bank.”

This picture is in memory of Ted’s dad, who I think owned and read every book written by Louis L’Amour, a North Dakota native.

Could you name the dome-free State Capitols?  They are:  Bismarck, ND; Lincoln, NE; Baton Rouge, LA; and Tallahassee, FL.

Unlike South Dakota’s capital city which is spelled Pierre and pronounced Peer, North Dakota’s capital city is spelled Bismarck and is pronounced Bismarck.  What a sensible state North Dakota is!

We started the day with a visit to the North Dakota Heritage Center and State Museum, the state’s official history museum.  According to the publicity, it has been called the “Smithsonian of the plains.”  We spent three very enjoyable hours in the building, looking and learning.

This is the front entrance to the museum.  It’s called the Northern Lights room.

It took us awhile to figure out where the quiet talking originated.  Speakers above the displays (arrow) are activated when visitors stand beneath them. The sound is loud enough to be heard at the exhibit and quiet enough not to disturb those listening at the next speaker.

This is a bull boat.  It’s made of willow branches and covered with buffalo hides.  The hair on the hides keeps the boat from spinning.  It’s about 4 feet in diameter and weighs about 30 pounds.

My sewing and hand-working skills always make me marvel at beautiful beadwork like this.

The museum wasn’t crowded, and there were no kids in line (they were presumably in school), so Ted and I played with the magnetic tiles and designed a quilt square and a pipe bag.  I bet you can guess which of us made each of these.

This was my favorite display.  The pictures below are three of the stories I found especially interesting in this display.

Before leaving the museum, we stopped at the snack bar.  Lo, and behold!  They had scotcheroos here too!  We shared one large scotcheroo.

The Standing Rock Native American Scenic Byway ends at Mandan, ND near Fort Lincoln, so we planned a visit to Abraham Lincoln State Park.  The park includes the Fort Lincoln historic site.  Within the park, there is a grave marker for Sitting Bull, but we knew he is really buried near Mobridge, SD, so we didn’t seek out the marker.  We took a guided tour of Custer’s house (yes, that Custer).  Lt. Col. George A. Custer arrived at Fort Lincoln in the fall of 1873 as the leader of six companies of the 7th Cavalry.

Custer’s house was very nice and homey.  That’s Ted and the tour guide on the porch.  We were the only two people on this very personal tour.

The parlor (foreground) is just to the left of the front door and opens into the dining room (the bow window in the above picture) and then into the kitchen.

One of the guest bedrooms.  There were several guest rooms and bathrooms for the Custers’ visitors to the frontier.

After the house tour, we had just enough time to scurry across the fort grounds to the Mandan On-A-Slant Village for a tour of that area.  It is called On-A-Slant because it is located on a slope beside the Missouri River.  The historically indigenous Mandan people of the area built this village, which existed as early as 1575.  The Mandan tribe was not nomadic, so they built large, permanent earth lodge homes.  The nearby city of Mandan, ND is named for this tribe and is populated by present-day Mandans.

Some of the Mandan earth homes in the village.  Multi-generational families lived in these roomy homes.   Fifteen people in a dwelling was not unusual.

One of the beds that circled the interior of the home.  The elderly and the sick slept on these beds; others slept on the floor.

The fire was in the center of the home.  An opening in the roof allowed smoke to leave the building.  The doorway (dark space on the left) made two turns before entering this room, helping to keep the cold or hot weather outside.

After the tours, we walked around the fort grounds.  The fort sits on a hill, so the views are wonderful.  This was good for defense in the 1800s; now it provides beautiful vistas for tourists.

This was one of the soldiers’ barracks.  The commanding officer had a separate room of his own at the far end of this room.

The Missouri River borders the fort on the east.  (Naturally, Lewis and Clark were here.)

This is one of the lookout towers.  Of course, we climbed the stairs/ladders to the top to enjoy the views.

Here’s a view of Bismarck (22 miles away) from near the lookout tower.  The tallest building (right center) is the state capitol.  The building with the narrow white tower in front of the capitol is a Catholic church.

We’re nearly 20 miles into North Dakota.  Woo-ee!  We need to go deeper into this previously unexplored (by us) state, so we left Fort Lincoln and headed for Bismarck.

While we were planning today’s activities, Ted and I learned last evening that our motel is within minutes of Sitting Bull’s grave.  We decided to visit the site.  It’s about two miles outside of Mobridge, SD on the Standing Rock Reservation.

Sitting Bull was shot by a Standing Rock policeman in 1890 near Fort Yates, ND and was buried at the Fort.  In 1953, his Lakota family exhumed what were believed to be his remains and buried them at his birthplace near Mobridge.  Fort Yates has a grave marker for Sitting Bull, but he is actually buried in the Mobridge area.

This is the monument at Sitting Bull’s gravesite.  People still leave things at the monument.

This is Sitting Bull’s monument from behind, showing how it overlooks the Missouri River.

Sakakawea is buried in Wyoming, where she died, but there is a monument to her near Sitting Bull’s grave.  We were quickly informed by local people that her name is properly Sakakawea, not Sacajawea, as we learned in school.  Sa-ka’-ka-way’-ah is said to be a more accurate pronunciation of her name.  She is recognized as the most remarkable Native American woman in history.

This is the monument to Sakakawea.

From Mobridge, we headed for Fort Yates to see the Standing Rock monument.  On the way, an exciting thing happened:  We entered North Dakota, one of three states we haven’t visited.

We made it!

It looks a lot like South Dakota.

After taking a moment to appreciate our arrival in North Dakota, we continued on our way to Fort Yates and Standing Rock.  We expected Standing Rock to be a tall pillar of rock standing on the bank of the Missouri River.  What we found was a large rock, mounted on a deteriorating structure in a parking lot.  Stories about the rock say it is a mother and an infant who were turned to stone.  The rock is held sacred by the Dakota/Lakota people.

From a certain angle (this one?) Standing Rock is supposed to show a likeness of the mother and infant who were turned to stone.

Fort Yates is a very small town (about as big as Hingham was when I was a child).  It is located on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation and is populated by Native Americans.  We stopped for lunch at a restaurant called The Rock and were the only white people–and probably the only non-residents–eating there.  The food was very good and the people were very friendly.

Here’s the dining room of the restaurant.  Only the far right corner table is not in the picture.

There was a sign on the wall with Sioux words on it.  I asked the manager what it meant.

This is pronounced “m-nee’ wee-chon’-ni” and means “water is life.”

After lunch, Ted and I started our journey down the Standing Rock Native American Scenic Byway on our way to Mandan, where the byway ends.

My online research for things to do in Pierre, SD included the information that the name of the city is pronounced “Peer.”  When we stopped for gas in “Peer,” I asked the station owner, a native of Pierre, if this is true.  He told me the first time he ever heard the city called “Pee-air” was on an episode of Cheers and “that just sounded weird!”

State Capitol.  The big attraction in Pierre is, of course, the State Capitol, so that’s where we headed.

It looks similar (domed) to 46 other State Capitol buildings.  Do you know where the four undomed State Capitols are?


We were surprised to find no security for entering the building.  Zilch!  We just walked in and walked around to our hearts’ content.  Like all State Capitols, it’s a beautiful building.

Legislators have it pretty good in South Dakota.  They convene each year on the second Tuesday of January and meet for 35 working days in even-numbered years and for 40 working days in odd-numbered years.  In recent years, they have completed their work in 38 days each year.

The 38 working days for this year are over, so the houses are empty until next January.


Soldiers’ memorial.    On the Pierre State Capitol grounds, there is a memorial to fallen soldiers of all six branches of service (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, and Merchant Marine).  The fountain in the memorial is fed by the natural artesian lake behind it.  The water is 92 degrees, so it never freezes in the lake or in the fountain.  The warm water is also used to heat the Capitol.  The water in the fountain used to bring natural gas to the surface, causing the water to burn constantly and making this a “flaming fountain,” but now it’s just water, no fire.  (There are old videos of the flaming fountain on YouTube.)

That’s the artesian lake in the picture.  The soldiers are life-sized and, from a distance, we thought they were live people until we noticed they never moved.  The former flaming fountain is in the foreground.


From the lake end of the memorial, you can see the cascading water flowing from the fountain toward the lake.


Before leaving the city, we went to LaFlamboise Island for a pretty view of Pierre.  The island is in the Missouri River and includes a park and a boat launch.  Lewis and Clark were here.

Here’s Ted, admiring Pierre.


Oahe Dam.  When Oahe (oh-ah’-hee) Dam was built on the Missouri River just north of Pierre in 1948, it was the largest rolled-earth dam in the world.  The reservoir behind the dam–Lake Oahe–is one of the longest man-made lakes in the world.  It’s 231 miles long and goes from one state capital to another:  from Pierre, SD to Bismarck, ND.

Oahe is a either a Nakota or a Dakota (no one knows for sure) word meaning “a firm place to stand.”  A good, solid name for a dam.

The sign affirms we were in the right place to see the dam.


Seven intake ducts in Lake Oahe direct water under the earthen dam.


Seven tailraces release the water from the intake ducts downstream into the river.  The tailraces are less visible than at some other dams because the water reaches them by passing under the earthen dam.


A portion of Lake Oahe.


This mission building was a church and a school. It would have been flooded by Lake Oahe, but money was raised to move it and save it for its historical value.


Pierre was fun to visit.  Now we have to remember to always pronounce it “Peer.”

Flat.  That describes what we’ve seen of South Dakota so far.  It makes Illinois look like a beginner in terms of flat.  I’ve never seen the horizon so far away in every direction.  A 360-degree turn presents a lot of sky all the way around.

Sunflowers and corn are everywhere.

South Dakota is truly a breadbasket.  In one area, I lost count of how many farms had 20-30 huge silos.  The smaller farms had 6-8 smaller silos.

Smaller breadbasket silos.

Our morning drive westward on I-90 presented almost as many Al’s Oasis signs as Wall Drug signs.  Since we were passing Al’s Oasis, we decided to take a break to visit this attraction.  It is obviously a “destination,” since a tour bus arrived at the same time we did.  The picture below shows about half of the Oasis, which is a long strip of stores.  They are all connected by a single indoor hallway for easy access.

The sign and the arrow told us this is the place.

Part of the throughway between Al’s stores.

Lunchtime arrived and the pickings were slim in this rural state.  We chose Pizza Ranch.  It turned out to be similar to Pizza Hut, but with a Western theme and with an extremely friendly and accommodating staff.

Pizza Ranch is a chain, but we didn’t learn that until we saw more of them.

A ranch requires Western decor.  It’s hard to see, but the buffet sign has a picture of a rodeo rider on a bucking bronco.

We spent our afternoon in Pierre (separate post) and ended today’s drive in Mobridge, SD, a very small town on the bank of the Missouri River.  Mobridge attracts fishermen and hunters.  The pheasant is not only the state bird of SD, it is the most popular for hunting and supports the SD economy with hunters from all over in the fall. Our motel room included some rags and the information that no game should be cleaned in our room.  Thank heavens!

We ended our drive with dinner in Mobridge, SD and shared the dining room with Imo, an 11-year-old Pacu fish.  He’s related to the piranha, but his vegetarian diet keeps him calm.

Ted and I spent a night in Mitchell, SD, so visiting the kitschy Corn Palace was a given.  What luck!  We were in time for the city celebration of the newly redecorated Corn Palace.

I didn’t know what to expect, but I found out the Corn Palace is a venue for concerts and other community events.  Every year, the Corn Palace is redecorated with a different theme, using yellow, red, blue, calico, and other colors of corn, plus bundles of oats, flax, and sour dockweed, all held together with over 200,000 nails.  Previous decoration themes included South Dakota industries, Indian ceremonies and games, the Space Age, and Mother Goose rhymes.  This year’s theme is rock and roll legends.

The Corn Palace facade.

A close-up of Willie Nelson to show the decorating detail.

A partial view of the decorated south side of the Corn Palace.

The King made the Corn Palace!

Corn cob-themed pillars in the lobby.

Huey Lewis was playing a concert in the Corn Palace.  Huey is original, but the “News-boys” are younger replacements.  The sound was still good.

Main Street in front of the Corn Palace hosted a five-day street festival to celebrate the new Palace decorations.

I wonder how many people know that there is a sculpture park in Montrose, SD just south of I-90.  Well, according to the guest book, at least a dozen people a day know about the Porter Sculpture Park.  There are more than fifty sculptures in the park, all made of scrap metal.  Some are low (three or four feet tall), but most are at least ten feet tall.  Interspersed with the definitely kitschy sculptures are poems composed by the artist-in-residence, who apparently spends his day sitting in a toolshed on the property while pondering new sculptures and poems.  The entire metal array is arranged in a field (watch out for dried cow pies and jumping grasshoppers).  The poems are actually pretty good and provide philosophical insights about the individual sculptures.

Yellow stick man greeted us as we entered the park.

A blue snake.  With a wing?

Sledding girl going down an apparently very steep hill.

Dancers looking carefree as they dance around an odd animal (a giant seated grasshopper?) in the field.

Plants that bloom fish instead of flowers.

A hammer pulling a nail (see the nail in the claw).

A fly holding a fly swatter.

Titled “Magic Dragon.”  (Puff?)  The artist told us people like to get engaged under the dragon.  Why?

Oversized flowers in an oversized pot standing on the SD prairie.

“The Scream”?  This one must be the birds’ favorite.  Check out the white streaks.

Little Miss Muffet and the spider that frightened her.

This bull is over 60 feet tall and is the signature piece.  It’s the single piece that can be seen from I-90 to tempt visitors.

This was my favorite, but the sharp object (a thorn?) stabbing the palm of the hand is a little off-putting.

Vermillion, SD is the home of the National Music Museum.  The New York Times described it as “one of the largest and most important collections of historical instruments in the world, whose galleries teem with masterpieces.”  We saw countless beautiful and unique musical instruments, narrowed down to a very few pictures below of the ones we enjoyed the most.

If you have a broken leg, but need to make music.

A nickelodeon with stained glass panels.

Decorated pipes on a pipe organ.

A guitar neck with historic Parisian scenes between the frets.

Eddie Peabody’s lavishly decorated banjo.

The trumpet specially designed for the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” movie.

And finally, . . .

It’s South Dakota.  A music collection wouldn’t be complete without Lawrence Welk and Myron Floren.

Vermilion (less commonly vermillion)–A vivid reddish-orange color; a brilliant red or scarlet pigment.

–Merriam Webster/Wikipedia

Vermillion, SD, in the southeastern tip of the state, is a charming small town, and home to the main campus of the University of South Dakota.  The city has embraced its name.  The red/vermilion theme begins with the welcome sign which spells the city’s name in large, red letters.  Everywhere we looked, we saw red.

Red flowers are abundant, often accompanied by white flowers for contrast.

All the park benches and public trash cans are red, not to mention the USD flags around the campus.

There are red bike racks everywhere (there’s not a hill in the city).  This one included red bikes.

USD’s school colors are red and black.  The mascot is the scarlet tanager.  (Go figure!)

Another beautiful feature of Vermillion is its architecture, in private residences and on the USD campus.

This is one of the campus buildings.

This building on the campus looked like a dormitory.  What a gorgeous place to live!

Speaking of red, South Dakota must be set on a layer of rose quartz.  There is plenty of rose quartz to use for buildings, stone benches, etc.  It’s not truly red/vermilion, but it’s a derivative of the city’s theme color.

Townspeople call this the “main building” on the campus. It is built of rose quartz.

Here’s a rose quartz bench on the USD campus.

Rose quartz is so plentiful, there is even enough to use it for road surfaces.  We saw rose-tinted blacktop, rose-colored interstate ramps, rosy highway shoulders, and even rosy roads as we traveled through the state.

These are some of the interesting things Ted and I saw and did on our MAT today.

We had Sunday brunch at Hy-Vee.  There are no Hy-Vee grocery stores in St. Louis, but I have heard from Kathy and from another friend of mine that people flock to Hy-Vee for the Sunday morning brunch.  Our hotel in Vermillion, SD was next door to a Hy-Vee store, so we walked over and asked a store employee about the brunch.  We learned that you can either have brunch ($8.99) or order from the menu (the deli is right beside the dining room).  Brunch is served from 6:00 am until 1:00 pm, but the best time to come is before 10:00 am.  The woman told us that the Christians come after church at 10:00, the Catholics come at 11:00, and the Lutherans come at 12:00.  The brunch was wonderful!  There were pancakes, waffles, a variety of breads to toast, two kinds of eggs, two kinds of breakfast potatoes, sausage, bacon, at least a dozen kinds of fruit and just as many kinds of bakery sweets, plus almost any kind of non-alcoholic beverage you can name.

This is the Christian crowd.  A stream of Catholics came in a little while after we were seated, and the Lutherans started appearing as we were leaving.

As we were paying for our brunch, I noticed scotcheroos for sale at the cash register.  I’ve never known anyone who made scotcheroos except my college roommate, who gave me the recipe.  They are one of our family favorites and whenever I serve them to people, I’m always asked for the recipe.

The size of these commercial scotcheroos makes one of my size at home worth $0.50.

We visited the National Music Museum in Vermillion after lunch.  I’m going to post pictures of some of the beautiful musical instruments we saw in a separate blog, but I saw something familiar as we walked through one of the display rooms.

The front porch railing of my parents’ house had twisted iron posts like these.  My dad and my grandpa (a former blacksmith) heated the metal and twisted it themselves.  The porch railing at home had a twisted “S” attached in the center for “Soerens.”

We’re in South Dakota, so you know what that means.  Yes, Wall Drug!!!!  The signs appear with regularity along the interstates.  We saw the first one (“Wall Drug or Bust”) just north of Vermillion, SD.  Wall Drug qualifies as pure South Dakota kitsch.

Too bad it’s 150 miles out of our way; otherwise, we could have this signature South Dakota experience on our MAT.  We haven’t been to Wall Drug since our one and only visit in 1971.  Do you think it has changed much?

The next stop was the Porter Sculpture Park (also coming up in a separate blog).  From the park, there was a beautiful view of South Dakota.

You can see the clouds from the thunderstorms that are building over north central Iowa.

Farther down the highway, we stopped at a rest area.  A sign informed us that South Dakota celebrates its history at its rest areas.  The concrete tipi is a tribute to the native people of South Dakota.  It doesn’t show in the picture, but at the feet of the tipi posts are triangles that form a thunderbird.  The stone building is designed to be reminiscent of the South Dakota settlers’ sod houses.

There are floodlights around the tipi to light it at night.  It must be a beautiful sight from the highway after dark.

We closed out our day with a quick stop at Wal-Mart.  As we were leaving, we noticed a group of campers in a corner of the parking lot.  One of our friends told us that Wal-Mart allows people to park their campers in the parking lot overnight, but I’ve never actually seen one.  It was about 8:45 pm and there were a dozen campers settled in for the night.

Good-night, everyone.

More MAT adventures coming up tomorrow.  We’re having lots of fun.

The word loess comes from the German löβ, pronounced “luss.”  It is what the Germans call the silt deposits in the Rhine River valley, and means “loose” or “crumbly.”

The Loess Hills in western Iowa rise up along the Missouri River and are a product of the Illinoian and Wisconsinan glacial periods.  The silt particles of loess were formed by the grinding movement of glaciers on the rock underneath them, and were carried downstream by rivers.  When the river flow decreased (as in winter), exposed loess deposits dried up and were carried by the wind to be deposited in great, rolling drifts.  The drifts in western Iowa were later shaped by erosion to create the topography of the Loess Hills.  Loess itself is not rare, but loess deposits greater than 200 feet deep are found only in the Loess Hills of Iowa and in the Yellow River valley in China.  Even where loess is less deep, it is some of the richest soil in the world.  Most of Iowa is covered with loess.

The Loess Hills National Scenic Byway is 220 miles long with 15 additional excursion loops to access natural, historic, and recreational attractions in the area.  This network links the most spectacular scenic areas in the Loess Hills and provided a beautiful drive through western Iowa for Ted and me today.

The Loess Hills National Scenic Byway–an American treasure.

A view of the Loess Hills as we approached them.

Overlooking the Missouri River plain to the west of the Loess Hills.

A typical scene as we drove through the Loess Hills.

The top sign says “Caution: Minimum maintenance road.”  The bottom sign says “Level B service.  Enter at your own risk.”  The picture fails to capture how steep and narrow this road is.Ted and I plan to drive several National Scenic Byways on our Midwest Adventure Trip (MAT).  The Loess Hills Byway was the first and it was so beautiful, we are looking forward to the others on our itinerary.

The next stop on our Midwestern Adventure Trip (MAT) was Grand Island, NE–home of Ted’s sister, Mutzie and nephew, Glenn.  The state fair was in town, so the three of us set out in search of adventure at the fair.  This was opening day, so anyone who arrived before noon was admitted free (admission was $12 for adults).  We arrived at 11:45.

The sign on the gate behind us says we are welcome at the fair.

As we headed for the main aisle of the fairgrounds, the first thing we saw was the local NBC weatherman telling his viewers that the weather was beautiful for fairgoers.

The forecaster was broadcasting from right in front of the Nebraska history trailer and was wearing a red shirt and tan shorts–just like Ted.

We decided to scope out the fairgrounds to discover what was offered before deciding what to see, so we caught one of the trams that toured the fairgrounds, complete with a narrator on board.  There was a minor adventure when one of the riders on our tram fell off.  He was standing on the step instead of inside the tram.  Fortunately, he suffered only a minor scrape on one elbow.

Naturally, nothing but a large tractor would be appropriate to pull the tram car at the state fair.

Here we are, enjoying our tram tour.

When we got off the tram, one of the first things we passed was Nebraska state fair kitsch.

Just like home.

We were passing the dairy barn, so we had a delicious lunch:  pie with ice cream.  Ted had peach, Mutzie had strawberry-rhubarb, and I had cherry.  Yum!  Moving onward after eating our pie–ahem! lunch–we saw three semi-trailer trucks with Brad Paisley’s name on them.  Brad was scheduled to entertain the Nebraska crowd at 7:00 pm.

One of Brad’s trucks.  You can see some of his guys setting things up on the stage on the left side of the picture.

Grand Island, NE is the manufacturing home of Case IH combines.  Don’t think you’re going to see Brad Paisley’s show without a ticket.

Case combines (the red machines behind the tractors) were displayed around the arena field, making it impossible to see the stage from outside the venue.

There were traveling individual and group musicians.  One group went by as we were walking along the main aisle.

The group did a good job and gave the crowd a happy, toe-tapping feeling.

Since Mutzie is a Quilting Queen, we checked out the display of quilts.  There were over 650 quilts displayed in a room designed to display 400, so some had to be hung over each other, allowing only part of each to show.  The quilts were beautiful and the building was air conditioned, so it was a nice break.

This is just one corner of the quilt display.  There were many aisles filled with hanging quilts, plus all four walls of the room covered with quilts.

One of Mutzie’s friends entered this quilt.  The challenge was to design a quilt using the Dresden plate pattern.  This quilter used the pattern in the bicycle wheels.

As we were leaving the fairgrounds, a “giant” came up to us, so I took a picture of him with Ted.

He’s jolly and he’s a giant.  He was also extremely steady on his feet as he danced and twirled.

We had fun at the fair and enjoyed our family time in Grand Island.  Until next time, “fair well,” Mutzie and Glenn.  (Groan, I know.)

Note:  Mutzie apparently knows everyone in Grand Island and possibly in Nebraska.  I don’t think ten consecutive minutes went by without meeting someone she knew.  She’s way ahead of Kari when it comes to seeing friends wherever she goes.

Preview in new tab

The first overnight stop on our Midwestern Adventure Trip (MAT) was Kirksville, where Ted and I spent the evening with Kathy and Annette.  The girls treated us to dinner and we had several hours to catch up on what’s new with each of us.  After all, we hadn’t been together since the eclipse two days ago.  Before settling in for our talk time, the girls took us to see a Kirksville home with many unusual yard ornaments.  The objects definitely qualify as kitsch–a developing theme of this vacation.

Can you see the spider in the lower right center?  There is also a praying mantis hidden in the bushes, and don’t miss the smiling face on the center tree trunk.  You can see smaller sculptures ahead of the bushes on the left.


Yes, those are jello molds and yes, they spin in the wind.


A carved wooden figure welcomes visitors at the front door.  Note that there are elves under the bench on the left.


The entire width of the back yard fence is lined with sculptures–also constructed of jello molds and also capable of spinning in the wind.


After this kitschy stop, we found more kitsch at the girls’ house.

Annette made this for an art sculpture project while attending Moberly Area Community College.  It now serves as a storage shed for the girls.


We are definitely viewing a different kind of scenery on this vacation.

kitschalso called “cheesiness” or “tackiness.”  Applied to objects that appeal to popular or uncultivated taste because they are garish or overly sentimental.  These objects are considered by other people to be ugly, without style, false, or in poor taste, but are enjoyed or appreciated by still other people in an ironic or knowing way or because they are funny.


In search of adventure as we started our midwestern vacation, Ted and I stopped at a place we’ve driven past countless times.  Never before have we entered . . . Ozarkland!

Just as predicted from the outside, the building has some of nearly everything inside.  After marveling at the thousands of items on the first floor, we discovered there is a second floor with many thousand more items (not an exaggeration).

This is less than half of what’s available on the second floor.

And here are a few things from the well-stocked first floor.

Decorative hens and roosters for your home.

Route 66 themed items–even though Ozarkland is roughly 100 miles from Route 66.

Simple, declarative door mats.

Fireworks.  But don’t smoke in this area.  That could bring an end to the tourist wonder that is Ozarkland.It’s going to be a kitschy vacation.

In preparation for viewing today’s total solar eclipse, Ted spent a lot of time poring over forecast models and weather forecasts for our area.  In addition, he checked out what the TV weatherpersons were saying and watched their “futurecasts” for rain and cloud cover.  The bottom line:  picking a viewing site was a tough call to make.

Last night, it looked like it didn’t matter where we went in the path of totality along I-70.  The forecast for the entire area predicted hot and humid weather with highs in the 90s and a 20 percent chance of thunderstorms.  We made the call to go with Plan A:  Pick up Kari and Dylan, then drive to Columbia, MO (95 miles west of St. Peters) to meet Kathy and Annette for a family eclipse event.  Sky and Teddy opted to stay home and participate in the classroom eclipse activities at school.

When it was time to leave this morning, the weather maps showed a clear, cloud-free strip all across the state on I-70, so we headed for Columbia.  Unfortunately, the farther west we drove, the more cloudy it became.  The radar showed a large thunderstorm developing in Kansas City and moving eastward along I-70 toward Columbia.  By the time we got to Columbia, we knew we wouldn’t be able to see the eclipse through the cloud cover.  Checking the radar maps again, we found a clear area around Warrenton (60 miles back eastward) and knew we had time to backtrack before the eclipse started.  Kathy and Annette were willing to drive the additional distance, so we headed down the highway.  Warrenton turned out to be a good choice.  We had a shady area for our picnic food, lots of sunny areas for eclipse viewing, and a bathroom nearby.

Ted and I have seen two partial solar eclipses (1970 and 1994).  Both were 98-99 percent total, but the light only dimmed; it didn’t get dark.  During the two minutes of totality today it didn’t get as dark as night; it was more like deep dusk, just before full darkness.  Still, we heard birds singing and cicadas chirping, the lights in the park came on, and there was a slight breeze (a.k.a. solar wind).  We saw the 360-degree “sunset” all around us as the sun’s rays shone on the horizon from behind the moon.  The temperature dropped a few degrees–enough to notice that we were more comfortable than we had been in the 94-degree sunshine.  We didn’t notice stars with our eclipse glasses on, but one of the videos I took shows lots of stars.  The most amazing sight during totality was the sun’s corona.  It was a brilliant white against the black circle of the moon–like sparkling diamonds in the sky.  There was an audible gasp from the people in the park when the corona became visible.  Unfortunately, my camera isn’t good enough to take a clear picture of the corona.  Check with NASA for that view.

We went to Dyer Park in Warrenton and were joined by about 15 other people.

We set up our picnic food at a table in the shade (it was in the 90s), but laid on blankets in the sun and walked around looking upward as we ate.

Our group of eclipse viewers.

This is one of my pictures of the total eclipse and the sun’s corona.  The dark spot in the center is the moon.

Here is another photo of the total eclipse.  Even during totality, the sun’s corona is so bright, it overlit my picture.

This is my favorite picture.  My photos of the first phase of the eclipse didn’t turn out very well, but I got better during the second phase.

The second phase is about half over at this point.

Ted and Dylan, checking out the progress of the eclipse.

We were all glad we made the call to go to Warrenton and we all agreed it was an event worth watching.  Yes, good times with the family.  We should do it again in Carbondale, IL for the next total solar eclipse in 2024.

For two years, Carbondale, IL has been advertising itself as “the eclipse crossroads of America.”  Carbondale was in the path of totality for today’s solar eclipse and will be in the path of totality for the next U.S. total solar eclipse in 2024 as well.  Hotel rooms have been fully booked in Carbondale for over a year.  Today’s weather forecast for Carbondale predicted mostly sunny weather and that’s exactly the kind of weather the city experienced.  (Or, in Ted’s weather-speak, the forecast verified.)

This is a picture of the crowd viewing the eclipse from the Southern Illinois University stadium in Carbondale.  Ticket prices for stadium seats ranged from $25 to $10,000 for a 20-person suite.  There are a lot of media folks filming on the field.

There were only a few clouds in the mostly sunny sky, but guess where one of them was.  You can see the eclipsing sun behind the cloud.Note:  These pictures were provided by a friend of Kari’s who went to Carbondale to view the eclipse.

Wal-Mart’s bakery is prepared for tomorrow’s total solar eclipse.

We didn’t buy a cake, but we have everything we need to view this spectacular event in Columbia, MO with Kathy, Annette, Kari, and Dylan.

St. Charles, MO was settled by the French in 1769 and was named Les Petite Côtes, “the little hills.”  Obviously, the city’s name was later changed, but every year on the third weekend of August, the city celebrates the Fête des Petites Côtes–the Festival of the Little Hills.  Ted and I go every few years.  Since the weather was beautiful last night, we decided to mingle with the crowd at the Festival’s opening night of the weekend.

The Festival has grown a lot over the years and has shifted more toward the “arts” of “arts and crafts” with fewer country craft displays and more (literally) art.  This year, we counted thirteen blocks of vendors on Main Street (from the 400 block of North Main to the 900 block of South Main), plus just as many vendors one short block over on Riverside Drive, plus more vendors in the strip-style parking lots along Riverside Drive.  In addition, Frontier Park, which runs the length of Riverside Drive, was filled with rides for the kids, and three bands were playing to good-sized crowds along Riverside Drive.  We enjoyed the event for about two-and-a-half hours and then topped off the evening with ice cream at Fritz’s.  It was another fun-filled summer night.

It was still light outside when we started our walk down Main Street.

Some interesting clocks available for purchase.  In case you can’t read them, the mechanic’s clock (top center) says “Your car will be ready at five” and the cop’s clock (bottom center) has hours of sweet treats.  My favorite is the left-handed clock (lower right).

Lots of rides and games for the kids . . .

. . . and even a bubble machine.

One of the bands on Riverside Drive.

The closer: Fritz’s ice cream.

Today’s mail brought Ted an invitation to attend a high school class “get together.”  Ten points to “the committee” for originality, creativity, and humor.  Note:  Personal information about “the committee” has been deleted to protect the innocent.

Last weekend, Ted and I went to one of our favorite restaurants.  We usually go on Sunday through Thursday nights after 7:00 pm to avoid a minimum thirty-minute wait for a table.  On Friday and Saturday nights, it’s often a ninety-minute wait until around 9:00 pm when it drops to 15-30 minutes.  It’s a very popular restaurant.

Parking is also a problem.  There are a lot of restaurants in this business complex and it’s not unusual for us to have to drive two streets over to find an empty parking space.  This time, we arrived at a parking lot that was only about one-third full, then at an empty restaurant.  One couple was getting ready to leave after finishing their meal, leaving the entire room available to us.

Come on in! No waiting.

Tonight there were food trucks and music in Frontier Park at the St. Charles riverfront.  Since Ted and I had no good ideas for dinner, we decided to let the food trucks feed us.

Lots of trucks.  Lots of food choices.

Dinner in the park.  No dishes to wash.

Lots of people joining us for dinner and a band playing good music while we ate.

Check out this collapsible wagon.  It even has 4 (yes, 4!) cupholders–2 in front and 2 in back.

We found an empty riverside park bench and watched the river flow by while the band played on.  Aaahhh, summer nights.

The St. Louis Municipal Opera, a.k.a. Muny, is in its 99th season and is the oldest, largest outdoor musical theater in the country.  It seats 11,000 people and has 1,500 free seats (the last nine rows) available on a first come-first served basis for every performance.

An overview of the amphitheater.  There is more seating to the right of the frame.  The back rows under the structural framework are the free seats–filled well ahead of the performance starting time.  The fans keep the hot summer air circulating and are quiet enough to run during the performances.

Ted and I have seen many memorable shows at the Muny.  Some that come to mind are:

  • Mikhail Baryshnikov’s performance in Swan Lake in 1983.
  • Porgy and Bess in 1984.  Ted was a good sport and went with me, even though he was working midnight shifts that week and slept through most of the show.
  • My Fair Lady, a girls’ night out with Kathy and Kari in 1985.  Kathy was 12 and Kari was 7 at the time.  In retrospect, Kari was too young.  After sitting through the two-hour performance, her summary of the show was “So she learned to say her a‘s.  Big deal!”  (cf “The rain in Spain . . . “)
  • Ted fulfilling the role of “official forecaster” for one performance of Cats in 1987.  There is an official forecaster at every performance to make the official call for a rain-out requiring ticket refunds.  Luckily for us, it was another beautiful summer evening, so Ted didn’t have to work very hard.  The perks of being the official forecaster included free tickets for VIP seats and VIP parking.  The seats were in the center front, close enough to see the players’ make-up, and the parking was right outside the theater entrance.  We were among the first to hit the road and left the park ahead of the traffic that night.  Yes!

During our past two weeks of R&R activities, Ted and I attended two shows at the Muny.  First, we saw A Chorus Line.  The plot line was thin (it was a musical, after all), but the music was good, and being entertained outside under the stars on a beautiful summer evening was a romantic date.

Several of the mature, aging trees that framed the stage have, unfortunately, needed to be cut down in recent years.

The second show we saw was Newsies, an outstanding Disney production.  It’s based on the true story of the New York City newsboys’ strike in 1899.  Over the years, we’ve learned not to sit in the center sections.  When it’s hot, it’s sweltering to be surrounded by so many people.  Sitting on the sides where there are some empty seats allows the breeze to keep us cool.  We should have used that experience-based knowledge when we bought our Newsies tickets.

This was my view of the stage for Act One.  Ted’s view from the seat on my right was equally bad.  There are a few square feet of stage floor showing between the heads, below the screen, left center of the picture.  We moved to some empty seats (on the side) during intermission and had a great view of the entire stage for Act Two.

President Trump’s proposed RAISE act (Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment) suggests merit-based immigration guidelines.  It favors those who are young (26-30 years old) with a doctorate in STEM subjects, high English proficiency, and a job offer with a high salary.  Thirty points are needed for eligibility to apply for a visa.  To fast-track your application, it helps greatly to have won a Nobel Prize (25 points) or a similar international award.

On August 7, Time magazine published an article about the RAISE act, including the eligibility questionnaire.  If you were an immigrant, would you be allowed to apply for a visa to the United States?  Would Trump?


The annual Perseid meteor shower–the warm-up act for next week’s total solar eclipse–peaked this weekend, so Ted and I scheduled a date night to view it.  The best meteor shower we’ve seen was the Leonid shower in November 2012.  We took my convertible and a heavy blanket, put the top and the seats down, and spent an hour covered with the blanket, sky-watching from the Busch Wildlife Area.*  The Perseid has been described as the most popular meteor shower because it falls in August, when it’s actually nice to be outside in the evening.  Last night, the temperature was in the low 70s.  Perfect.

We scouted out some possible viewing areas away from city lights and settled on a country road north of us near the confluence of the Cuiver and Mississippi Rivers.  There was a convenient public boat ramp where we could park the car while we set up our lawn chairs on the levee and enjoyed the evening.

The country road (CTH C) was actually more like a one-lane gravel driveway (you can see it on the right), but the view was great.

This year’s Perseid shower was supposed to be a big one, with 150-200 meteors per hour visible, including long tails.  Unfortunately, there was also a three-quarter moon, which seriously limited meteor visibility.  We arrived at our spot at about 8:30 pm, allowing us time to watch meteors before the 11:00 moonrise.  The most active meteors would be visible at 17 degrees above the horizon at 9:00 pm.  The area was dark enough to see the Milky Way (we can’t even see the entire Big Dipper from our house), but there was still enough ambient light along the horizon to limit our viewing from about 20-25 degrees upward.  As a result, we could see only the fringe of the meteor shower–far fewer than 150 per hour.  Still, we saw a meteor every few minutes and about a third of them had long tails that crossed most of the sky.

It was definitely worth a summer date night, sky-watching with the crickets and frogs chirping and croaking around us.

* When we were ready to leave the Leonid shower and started the car, the headlights came on and attracted the attention of a county policeman on patrol.  He drove into the lot where we were the only parked car, shined his police-issue flashlight in my face, and told me to roll down the window.  Blinded by the flashlight, it took me awhile to find the window button.  “What are you two doing here?” the policeman growled.  “Watching the meteor shower,” I replied.  There was an instant change in his demeanor to friendly and conversational.  “Really?  How many have you seen?” he asked.  We talked a few minutes and then went our separate ways.  In all the times I sat in a parked car with my boyfriend of the moment, we were never confronted by a policeman!!!  Adventures continue, even after retirement.  And with my husband of 43 years (at that time)!

Every summer, the Missouri Botanical Garden presents a special show from mid-May until early August.  This year’s show, “Garden of Glass,” featured larger-than-life glass sculptures created by artist Craig Mitchell Smith.  The show has been so popular, it will be held over for a week longer than planned.  Another “Garden of Glass” show in 2006 featured works by Dale Chihuli.  The Garden purchased four of Chihuli’s pieces for permanent display, and I suspect the same will be done with Smith’s pieces when they go on sale after the show.

The Missouri Botanical Garden, also called Shaw’s Garden, is one of the oldest botanical institutions in the United States.  It is a National Historic Landmark and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  It was established by Henry Shaw in 1859, and includes Shaw’s original 1850 house, as well as his mausoleum.  One of the most distinctive architectural features of the Garden is the Climatron, a geodesic dome that houses tropical plants.  Most of Smith’s glass creations were on display in the Climatron.  The entire Garden (79 acres) is beautiful and restful, and is always a wonderful place to walk, relax, and enjoy the scenery.

A Chihuli sculpture in the lobby of the visitor center.

The Climatron viewed over a reflecting pool with floating Chihuly glass “Onions”

A quiet courtyard decorated with mosaics

The plantings in this garden are changed each season.

Henry Shaw’s mausoleum

Shaw’s sarcophagus in the mausoleum.

Ted and I chose a perfect summer afternoon to visit the “Garden of Glass” exhibit.  The exhibits were beautiful beyond what I can describe.  We were so impressed with them that we decided they were worth a second look in the evening, when each piece would be lighted.  The evening shows are offered only on weekends, so we had to wait a few days, but it was worth it.  We took pictures of every exhibit–day and night–and together, we went through the pictures four times to narrow them down to a reasonable number to include in this blog.  It was very difficult to choose, and the pictures are a poor substitute for seeing the sculptures in person.

Bird of Paradise sculptures

We are standing behind the lighted waterfall.  Between the two columns of falling water, you can see the vertical streaks of Smith’s “Waterfall” glass, also lit in blue.  In the daytime, the water and glass were white and were nearly indistinguishable from each other.  True artistry!

Three glass mobiles titled “Spring”


“Phoenix” was strikingly lit at night, but didn’t photograph as well as in the daylight.

“Night Blooming Cactus” lighted for the evening show.

Titled “Tree of Life,” this sculpture includes 1,000 glass monarch butterflies.

This 16-foot tall dandelion is called “Make a Wish” and includes 50 dandelion “seeds” that were hung among the trees along the path as though they had been blown off the dandelion stem.

“Passion” as found in a Garden fountain

Another beautifully lit piece: “Cubanola-Domingensis.”

After spending most of July on tasks related to our upcoming updates of the master and guest bathrooms, Ted and I declared August to be reserved for fun.  We have a good start on the month.  In the past week, we’ve done the following things.

Sunday:  Dinner and the evening with Ted’s niece, Judy and her family (Dinesh and Jay).

Monday:  Lunch out; “Garden of Glass” at the Missouri Botanical Garden; dinner out.

Tuesday:  St. Louis Municipal Opera for a performance of A Chorus Line.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 2017-08-Muny-Chorus-Line-2-2844x1600.jpg

Wednesday:  Lunch out; visited some local small businesses we were curious about.

Thursday:  Back to the Botanical Garden to see “Garden of Glass” in the evening when the glass is lit.

Friday:  Lunch out; saw Al Gore’s movie, An Inconvenient Sequel.  Our review:  it was better than we’d expected.

Saturday:  Unfortunately, chores needed to be done.  Mowed the lawn, put the bathrooms back together, now that the paint is completely dry.

Sunday:  Saw Maudie.  Our review:  9 stars out of 10.  Probably some Academy Award nominations coming up for this one.

It was fun to play for a week.  Our Pilates class is on break for two weeks and volunteering hasn’t started yet, so we’ve got another week of no commitments except to relax and have fun.  Someone has to do it, so it might as well be us.

Robin Cook needs to change publishing houses.  After finding two (what I’d call serious) errors within a few pages of text in Cook’s “Foreign Body , I found another erroneous word in Cell, another book of his.

If he’s eating the food rapidly, rather than mocking it, the word should be “scarfed.”

You never know when you’ll want to measure something.  You could probably stretch these when measuring your waist so that you’d come up with a smaller number.

While I was out with Kari last week, I was excited about meeting one of my friends instead of one or more or her friends as we usually do.  Today was was another good day for meeting friends.  Ted and I went out to lunch and we saw Cy and his wife, Pat, in the restaurant.  Cy used to be a volunteer tutor in my Adult Education and Literacy program.  We were both waiting for a table, so we decided to share a single table instead.  It was so much fun spending time together unexpectedly.  We both admitted that we often go to this restaurant for lunch, so there’s a good chance we’ll see each other again, especially since we met them there once before.  Last time, however, Ted and I were leaving when Cy and Pat arrived.  I hope that, next time, our timing works out like it did today.

Friends are fun.