Road Trippin’ VIII: The Journey Home

Given that the seventh and final leg of our journey involved the longest drive, you might think there would be much to say about it. But just like the first day of our trip, we were on familiar territory and had planned no stops other than for food and fuel, which meant there wouldn’t be much to talk about unless something tragic or unusual occurred. Fortunately, that did not happen. Instead, we passed a pleasant day as quickly and efficiently as we could with the goal of spending the night in our own bed.

To be fair, the trip wasn’t entirely unremarkable. For example, on this day, the Jarhead decided not to hog the driver’s seat. It probably helped that he knew I was familiar with the route and was unlikely, therefore, to miss a turn and get us lost. It may also have helped that we were passing some of the flattest and straightest terrain this side of North Dakota, Saskatchewan, and Iowa, and would be willing to do the speed limit or better. A more likely explanation, however, is that, having stayed up late watching TV and eating junk, he was less interested in driving than he was sleeping. Whatever the case, we did spend the entire day driving and succeeded in making it back to Chez Diersen before bedtime. To my intense relief, the kids and the cats were all alive and well, and none the worse for having spent the week alone.

Looking back on the previous posts and the comments I’ve received from readers, it occurs to me that I may have given folks the impression that North Dakota, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota and Minnesota don’t have much to offer the travelers and tourists in their midst. In fact, there is more to see and do in the upper Midwest and south central Canada than can be discussed in eight blog entries, and you could spend a week in each state and every province and still not see and do it all.

For example, in South Dakota alone there are the Black Hills, the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park, Wind Cave National Park, the Corn Palace, and the Mammoth Site at Hot Springs. These did not receive a mention because we did not visit them this year since, one, we have visited them all once or twice on other trips and, two, our primary goal was to make it from Wisconsin to Idaho by way of the Canadian Rockies within a week. The same is true for Yellowstone National Park, Big Horn National Forest, and a multitude of state parks and cave systems.

That said, if you haven’t already done so, be sure to visit them as you make your away along I-90. We did so last back in 2011, and here is some of what we saw then:


If you have the time, you especially should not miss the Mammoth Site at Hot Springs where you will see where the remains of various mammoths and other creatures have been found, studied, and preserved. It’s off the interstate by about an hour, but it is well worth a visit not only because it gives you such a sense of what we know about prehistoric North America, but also because it helps you appreciate how much more we still have to learn! For more information about this fun and educational place, visit


Animal lovers, meanwhile, should be sure to check out the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary. I have yet to visit this one, but it comes highly recommended by equine enthusiasts like my friend and fellow writer, J.S. McCormick. Founded in 1988 by Dayton O. Hyde, the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary offers tours ranging from two hours to three days. They aren’t cheap and reservations are required, but if you love horses, it is not to be missed. To learn more about this amazing place, visit

Well, that about covers it. I hope you’ve enjoyed the adventure and, perhaps, been inspired to make a road trip of your own. Meanwhile, thanks for playing along!



Road Trippin’ V: Rocky Mountains–Hi!

Banff National Park was everything people said it would be and more. And yet, somehow, Kootenay National Park was better. Maybe it just seems that way because no one talked Kootenay up before we left and so our expectations for it were not that high. Or maybe Kootenay really is better, but nobody knows that because fewer people go there. Or maybe folks are bragging up Banff over Kootenay the way early explorers did Greenland—so everyone will go there instead of Iceland.


Among the many wonders in Kootenay, our favorite was Marble Canyon. Situated between Lillooet and Cache Creek, the canyon is what the experts call a collapsed Karst formation, which basically means it’s a cave whose top has washed or worn away. The word ‘marble’ in the title apparently refers to the color and texture of the rock forming the canyon walls rather than the type of rock itself, which is not marble but limestone—and which explains why it’s washing/wearing away.


Before we headed up the trail that runs along the canyon, I was just another curious tourist wondering what there was to be seen further up the hill. Well that’s not strictly true. I was also—and still am—a victim of osteoarthritis, which is why about halfway up the trail I was wondering if I really cared what there was to be seen further up the hill.


It was at about this point that we encountered another 40-ish couple making their way back down. “Don’t give up now,” taunted one of the sadists as I paused to rest my knees. “You don’t want to miss the falls.” Hoping she meant the naturally occurring geographical feature in which large volumes of water flow rapidly over rock formations as they make their way downhill and not the naturally occurring gravitational event in which middle-aged arthritis victims roll rapidly over rock formations after losing their balance, I decided to push on.

I probably would have done so even without the promise of the falls since I knew the Jarhead wouldn’t have continued up the trail without me, and I wouldn’t have wanted to deprive him of the experience of seeing the entire canyon. Nevertheless, her words were the boost I needed to get me moving again, and soon I was back on my feet, gritting my teeth, and praying I had enough cartilage to make it back down.


In the end, the view was definitely worth the walk, as well as the cortisone flare I experienced a few weeks later after my first consultation with an orthopedic surgeon—but more on that later. The falls were beautiful, and thanks to the brilliant engineers who work for the Canadian park service, you can stand close enough to the water to feel its misty kisses on your face. It was truly awesome.


After seeing the falls and the canyon, plus several other natural wonders in our path, we headed south toward Idaho. Then, after a brief stop at the duty-free shop (where we picked up a t-shirt and some cigars for the Princess, and a scarf and maple syrup lollipops for El Noble—I’m kidding, of course; but wouldn’t it be funny if I wasn’t?) we crossed the border at Kingsgate and officially checked the 50th state off the Jarhead’s list.

That evening, we decided to make camp at Bonner’s Ferry, ID. I use the phrase “make camp” a bit loosely since we actually stayed at the Kootenai River Casino & Spa Best Western. I will remember this visit for several reasons, not the least of which was the two mile distance between our room and virtually any of the facility’s fine amenities.

It bears mention here that the hallways in this section of the facility were not air conditioned. This is significant because despite the shower and the other heroic measures I took toward making myself presentable every time I left the room I couldn’t make it halfway to my destination without breaking into a sweat and leaving my fellow patrons to wonder if I had been walking in the rain or showered in my clothes. Thank goodness we were only there for a night. If we had stayed any longer, I may have been forced to wear my swimsuit to play the slots.

That’s all we really saw of Idaho since after a big dinner and several drinks, we hit the casino. The jackpots eluded us, but it took me two whole hours to lose the twenty bucks I started with, and the Jarhead came out sixty bucks ahead, so we went to bed happy—and looking forward to spending Saturday in Montana.

Road Trippin’ llll: Are we there yet?

Having spent most of the previous evening driving through Saskatchewan—whose primary purpose seems to be to occupy the space between Manitoba and Alberta—we were excited to be more than halfway to Calgary. Again, there’s really nothing wrong with a place whose only topographical features are hayfields and power lines; it just wasn’t what we had come to see.

And that’s not to say there was nothing to break up the monotony of the drive. For example, there were lots of Humpty’s Restaurants along the way. Essentially the Canadian equivalent of Denny’s, Humpty’s offers the weary traveler an array of hot and cold beverages, and a variety of foods—including some I have yet to see available on any US roadway, like pierogi, turkey schnitzel, and bangers and mash.

Also helping to make the trip more interesting on this leg of the journey were the other travelers we met along the way. I must admit to using the first person plural a bit generously here since the Jarhead can barely bring himself to exchange greetings with strangers, much less make small talk. I, on the other hand, will strike up or join a conversation with just about anyone who isn’t holding a weapon or a hostage. That probably isn’t a fair statement, given I’ve never had occasion to avoid or ignore someone bearing a firearm or keeping people against their will; but I like to think that when the situation presents itself, I’ll be smart enough to recognize what’s happening, and have the sense to zip my lips.

Meanwhile, I was more than happy to chat with the nice Aussie woman who approached me during one of our pit stops to ask if I was a ‘local lady.’ Resisting the urge to say, ‘No, I’m the local slut,’ I told her and her travel companions I was a Yank from Wisconsin, and then made polite inquiries into their origins, their itinerary, and their impressions of North America, while the Jarhead waited outside cursing the bus in the parking lot as if the volume of people in the washroom alone were to blame for the delay in my returning to the truck.

Later that day, as we approached the mountains east of Banff, we spotted a dude on a bicycle a ways up the road. Upon noticing him, the Jarhead surprised me by suggesting that we pull over and offer to throw his bike in the back and give him a ride. I should have known he meant it sarcastically, since he’s even less of a humanitarian than a conversationalist when it comes to strangers, but all of that was lost on me at the moment.

“No way,” I said in response. “I know bicyclists are almost never serial killers, but with our luck we’d find the one who is, and we have no means to defend ourselves.”

“We could run him over,” he offered. “Unfortunately, those guys are pretty fit, so we’d have to back up and do it again two or three times.”

“So you agree it’s a bad idea.”

“Of course I think it’s a bad idea.”

“Then why did you suggest it?”

“Because then I could tell him how stupid it is to ride a bike through the mountains when there are so many motorized forms of transportation available.”

So that was Thursday…

That afternoon we entered Banff National Park and were on course for Lake Louise. By nightfall we had reached Baker Creek lodge and secured a nice room with a fireplace, kitchenette, and whirlpool tub—none of which we used. Instead, we gathered up the rum, a couple cans of coke, and the remains of our crackers and deer sausage, and had dinner on a swing under the stars.

It was probably the rum, but I didn’t give a single thought to bears, bandits, or any other potential threats to my existence while we were out there. Nor did I worry about earthquakes or volcanic eruptions, or wonder if the creek would suddenly shift course and wash us away. Instead, I just enjoyed the peace and tranquility, and crossed my fingers that the Jarhead wouldn’t fall asleep before I was sober enough to walk back to our cabin.

It had been a long drive, and we were looking forward to sleeping in on Friday, and to seeing everything that awaited us in Kootenay and British Columbia.