"Could I have this dance for the rest of my life?" - Anne Murray

Monday, June 27, 2011


Wildflowers in Spearfish Canyon, Black Hills, South Dakota.


Yeah, you can say that again. WEATHER! Are we ever having it, and then some...

First of all, we are not in Montana, but we are definitely in big sky country. The sky here is a novel, while the sky at home in New England, or even in Illinois, is a paragraph in a short story. At any given moment here, we can see many different chapters in the novel, each playing out in a small segment of the sky. Some chapters of the sky are about the past, others about the future. Some chapters are violent and frightening, while others are peaceful.  It has everything: suspense, drama, resolution, foreshadowing, even character development in a way. Unfolding all around us, all at the same time. One sunset happens in every single part of the sky. I can't just point and shoot, without a panoramic camera. I may need to get one.

So, lately the big action of the novel comes to meet us where we are, on the northern edge of the Black Hills. We're in a weather story now that goes like this:  Clear sky in the morning, puffy clouds start developing about noon, and then in the afternoon the chapters start piling up around us. By evening, we are surrounded by massive cloud dramas, (I can't find words big enough to describe them) that start to drop down on us. "Severe thunderstorm warnings" is what the National Weather Service calls them. We get wind, rain and for two nights in a row, blasts of huge hail.

We attended the Black Hills Bluegrass Festival two nights ago. The weather started in early dramatic chapter development. By the last set, we all hurried under an enclosed shelter, and the biggest hail storm ever beat down on the roof so hard the band had to stop for about 15 minutes to wait out the deafening sound. When we thought it couldn't get any louder, it kept escalating. People were literally covering their ears. It was apocalyptic. We drove back to the RV through another hailstorm, but when we got home there was no evidence that there had been a storm here at all. Dry as a bone, just 20 minutes away.

This morning it is sparkling clear and we are headed out to drive Spearfish Canyon. I'll try to take some pictures.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Badlands, South Dakota

Probably most folks have seen photos of the Badlands on calendars and postcards, and maybe had the chance to be there. The place is so dramatic, with the green grass leading right up to the copper colored sedimentary rocks and mud. We camped just south of the Badlands, and so we drove through them several times to get somewhere for dinner, and to and from the highway. I took all these drive-by shots, never expecting them to be any good, and look!

Passed this herd of mountain goats or longhorn sheep, I don't know which. I don't think any were adult males so they didn't have any long horns anyway. About 20 moms and kids.

We also saw our first pronghorned antelopes of the trip. Plenty of prairie dogs, some deer. No elk or bison yet.

We'll be in South Dakota now for a month. We're at the Elkhorn Ridge RV Resort in  Spearfish, a nice real town, compared to nearby Deadwood, which is tourists and casinos.  We got our SD driver's licenses today, and applied for our vehicle registrations. We're officially South Dakotans now.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Travel days in Wisconsin and Minnesota

Now we are really traveling. We had a brief rapprochment to Holiday Hour for one night to have a few technical difficulties taken care of. The Flanagan family and their employees have been great to us, but it was finally time to say goodbye and strike out on our own.

We drove from Cortland, IL to Lacrosse, WI, then camped two nights at Pettibone Island RV Resort. It's an island in the middle of the Mississippi, which spreads out and flows around many little islands at that location. The first night it was crazy crowded with bikers and others, but most cleared out on Sunday and we had a quiet, beautiful day. Did laundry in a gourmet coffee shop/laundromat, took a long bike ride along the Great River Trail and had our first long lingering sunset on the banks of the Mississippi.

Today we drove across Minnesota and landed in Sioux Falls.  Sioux Falls is named after, yes, the falls, which are now surrounded by a lovely, very accessible city park. 

Had dinner at a great little local place downtown called the Phillips Avenue Diner. Everything you'd hope a diner to be and more. Delicious food and an imaginative menu as well.

The historic downtown is about 10 x 3 blocks and there is a fine sculpture collection lining the two main streets.  We walked around and then headed home. There is a tornado and severe thunder storm warning now as I write, so we've loaded a few back packs with basic survival supplies in case we have to go sit in the storm shelter later. Oh boy.

Tomorrow we cross South Dakota and will spend the night in the Badlands. We are moving quickly, passing by so many interesting things, but are eager to get to Spearfish, SD where we will spend a month and have the chance to really give our surroundings the attention we want to.  But even now, we are having so may new experiences, and enjoying ourselves tremendously.  

Monday, June 13, 2011

NOT Thomas the Tank Engine

Great Bon Voyage party Saturday night. Some sweet quality time around the camp fire. Lots of good bratwursts. I think seeing our new home put some folks' minds at ease. Now they know we're not heading out into the world in a tin broom closet.

Next day we rode our bikes to the Illinois Railroad Museum in Union. Perfect ride in the country. Among other things, the museum's got some monster train engines housed in this huge, long, dark, scary, kind of stinky building. They look like something out of Dr. Who. Perhaps they inspired the Daleks, only MUCH bigger, blacker and nastier. Very steampunk. Eight wheels that are taller than a tall person. Thousands of rivets sticking out of the tank. Baroque constructions of pipes, boxes, cylinders, gears, towers...Nothing at all like Thomas the Tank Engine.

On the home front, we're having trouble with two of our slides. They're stuck and won't slide back in. So we're in Union IL at the KOA until we resolve the problem.

Friday, June 10, 2011

We're on the Road

We've accomplished our first move by driving from the dealership to a nearby KOA. (Big deal!) Rick did very well driving the truck while towing the 5th wheel for the first time along the country roads. Rick Flanagan, owner of Holiday Hour RV dealership actually rode with us to make sure we made our transition and hook up successfully. The whole team at Holiday Hour has been really helpful to us while we figured what was just our inexperience and what was a real problem with the RV. Hitching and unhitching is a little nerve wracking and seems complicated at this point, as it's totally new to us. We got a late start, but we got here, and had a very late dinner at the Wild West Steakhouse bar next door. That helped us imagine we had actually gotten somewhere.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Sycamore, IL

This is one of those little American towns I wish there were more of. Sycamore is the seat of Dekalb County, so it has a classic grey stone court house grounding the town square, surrounded by a red stone library, a brick post office, and a vital downtown with numerous quality establishments.  No doubt it benefits from the proximity of Northern Illinois University in Dekalb, and may be a bedroom community for its employees.

Shawn's is a great little coffee house just a block or two from the square. I guess because so many people come into town for court house business, there are lots of good looking restaurants and bar/grills scattered around the square, some with outdoor seating. We ate at a very classy, understated place called Nat's On Maple last night. Excellent rib eye and Maple Street salad. Great little non-chain grocery story just east on State St.

Grand old Victorian houses with shady gardens line the main drag south of town.

Any street you take leads you out into scenic countryside with picture perfect farms and cornfields. 

Flat as a pancake. The wind never seems to stop blowing.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Playing house

These little successes are so magical. It's like we're playing house and discover that the little refrigerator REALLY WORKS! Just now I heated water in the real microwave. Last night we used the real air conditioner. This morning I made a cup of real espresso and toasted a real bagel.

But better than all that - last night I sat quietly out at the pond with Kona and watched the little duck community at dusk. Three females with little clouds of ducklings following them around, small groupings of bachelors drifting and sparring, childless couples foraging...I kept expecting them to settle down for the night, but as darkness fell they were still busy. Rabbits "siflaying" along the ponds edge. At least two different kinds of frogs singing. Heaven.

Friday, June 3, 2011


...with the washer/dryer AND the refrigerator.

On to the generator so we can use the air conditioner, hair dryer, microwave and coffee maker. (Though not all at once.) Until then I may have to find a Starbucks out here in the cornfields.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Adventure Begins

We are now officially living in the RV. It's still parked in the RV dealers lot, but we are sleeping here and running almost all the systems. We're having some trouble with the fridge not staying cold, and it seems to warm up over night for some reason. We also can't move to the RV park yet, as we are waiting for a riser for our hitch. This lifts the front of the RV up high enough so that it doesn't crash into the sides of the truck when going over bumps. No one seems to have anticipated this problem.

We've had some nice adventures into the surrounding area, a really beautiful part of Illinois. Classic farms and baby corn plants everywhere. The area has had tons of rain, so the vegetation is lush and green everywhere. And some evidence of flooding as well.

                                                             Had our first tail gate party.

Also found a superb place for barbecue,
with the best baked/smoked beans ever.
It's called the Crystal Lake Rib House,
on Rt. 176 in Crystal Lake, IL. Doesn't
look like much on the outside, but the
inside is clean and homey, and the service
is great.

Tonight I tackle the washer/dryer!