Monday morning it was very grey. Thankfully we realized it the night before and had everything done except bringing in the slide, lowering Petunia the last few inches onto the hitch, and unplugging. About 6 AM it was thundering and looking rough, but by the time we were ready to head out at 7, it wasn’t even sprinkling. We hit the road headed west to our first stop. Along the way we passed a house which displayed what has to be the epitome of laziness. (Sorry, I wasn’t fast enough to get a pic.) If you’ve driven anywhere in the south (and probably other areas, too) you’ve seen a broken down car with a tree growing up through it buried in grass. The owners said, it doesn’t work anymore, so we’ll just pretend it isn’t here or better yet, is an actual yard ornament. Well, these folks had a couple of things buried in 3 feet of grass, too…MOTORCYCLES!! Seriously?! Would it really be that hard to push them out of the way? I was perplexed.
Between US 69 and IA 17, Thor put us on a gravel/dirt road. Before he committed to the turn, I pointed it out, but MW (Mr. Wonderful) said it was okay. (I tend to like dirt roads. Him…not so much.) After the turn, however, Thor said “continue on for 12 miles”. MW wasn’t happy, but it turned out to be a well traveled, wide, mostly gravel road. We did hit a little bit of dirt, though, and got to do a little mud running. (Grand Design would be absolutely shocked at some of the places we have dragged Petunia!) Unfortunately, it rained really hard before we stopped, so the mud pic doesn’t do it justice.
In West Bend, Iowa, we took some time out to tour the Grotto of the Redemption. Thankfully, the rain stopped about 15 minutes before we arrived, so we could enjoy this outside attraction. (The temperature was around 70 degrees, and the wind was blowing pretty good, so I actually had to get out a sweater!) We’ve toured the Dickeyville Grotto in Wisconsin (more of a God and country theme) and the Ave Maria Grotto in Alabama (a different concept with lots of tiny vignettes of known, historical landmarks). This one, however, is the mac daddy in terms of size. Father Paul Dobberstein, a Catholic priest, suffered from a serious case of pneumonia just prior to his ordination. In his hour of need, he prayed for healing and promised to build a shrine to the Blessed Virgin Mary should his prayers be answered. For the next decade he gathered materials from far and wide. When construction finally began in 1912, it became his life-long mission and grew into much more. By the time of his death in 1954, he had built nine grottos in a connected maze of paths and stairs, some well over 50′ up. It is said that Father Mathias Wernerus, who built the one in Dickeyville, was inspired to begin his project by visiting the Grotto of the Redemption. While touring, we ran into a man inspecting sections of the rock work. It turned out that he started volunteering at the Grotto when he was 7 years old and actually helped to build the Roman arch above the Mary grotto. Now, 32 years later, he works there and spends his time making sure it is properly maintained. Since the entire thing is basically stones in concrete, the winter really takes a toll. In the spring, they spend a lot of time putting things that popped off back where they belong. My favorite parts were the 14 scenes of the Stations of the Cross and the Stable in Bethlehem. We spent quite a bit of time walking around and also checked out the museum of Father Dobberstein.
Back on the road, we continued west to Mallard, then south to Pocahontas, then west again. Just past Cherokee we found a roadside park with a picnic table and stopped for sandwiches. (OMGosh! I’m so excited that the weather is getting cooler!) Then it was on to stop number two.
Le Mars, Iowa, is the home of Wells Enterprises, Inc. You know them, right? Does this help? It is the “Ice Cream Capitol of the World”. Still no? According to the website, it is the “largest privately held, family-owned ice cream and frozen treat manufacturer in the United States.” Nothing? Okay, does the Bomb Pop® or Chilly Cow ring a bell? How about Halo Top®? Then there is always my favorite…
Normally they have factory tours (there are two…North Plant and South Plant…in Le Mars), but Covid has that activity shut down for now. We had to be satisfied with checking out their Visitor Center and Ice Cream Parlor in town. (Can you imagine having to endure that???) We were both happy to sample a Blue Bunny Sundae and look around the store. Wells has been churning out ice cream treats since 1913 under a multitude of brands. Their influence in Le Mars is evident: the town is covered up with brightly painted ice cream cone statues…57 to be exact. We walked around town a little bit and ran into a young man painting a large mural. A Le Mars native, his name is Mitchell Zenk. He is responsible for several other murals around town, as well as a metal sculpture at the Le Mars Art Center. This work in progress is going to be similar to the Candyland game, except using Le Mars figures and locations. He hopes that, once complete, a brochure will be made up of the picture so kids who visit can leave with a game to play. If we pass by this way again, I will definitely get a pic of the finished product.
Early afternoon was upon us, and it was time to get to our spot for the next few nights. The land for most of this drive was more rolling, and the long-range views were incredible. The corn harvest had begun, so the texture of the landscape was changing. We zig-zagged north northwest and crossed over into South Dakota to end up at the Big Sioux State Recreation Area. The weather was most excellent, so I set up shop at the picnic table to get some work done, and MW had happy hour.
Tuesday started slow, but when I finally got myself together we headed out to check out a couple of cool local landmarks. First up was lunch at Tailgators Grill & Bar, where we both had sandwich fare that was pretty darned delicious. (MW – Chicken Cordon Bleu with dipping fries. Me – Chicken Artichoke Panini with a side salad…yum!)
Full and ready to go, we headed north to Garretson, South Dakota to check out Devil’s Gulch. I’m a big fan of westerns and western folklore, so I found this really interesting. First, this is what the landscape in this area generally looks like:
Now, close your eyes and imagine…WAIT! Open your eyes so you can keep reading. Imagine that it’s a beautiful, fall day in 1876. You’re out riding…fast. There is a large group of men behind you, not out for a nice ride, but working hard to catch up. Why? Because you just robbed the bank in Northfield, Minnesota. (Nobody’s perfect!) You are high-tailing along with your brother before you decide to split up to further evade capture. Your horse is all lathered up, and you are hammering along, full-tilt. Suddenly, over a rise in the prairie, you come upon this:
Well, Jesse James? What do you do now? Jesse figured that he only had two choices…jail or jump. With Frank waiting on the other side, he hit the edge at a full gallop and flew across the 20′ gap on what surely must be one of the best horses ever! Below is the spot where he leapt (ignore all that unsightly metal).
Aside from this particular spot, there were some nice walking trails that descend into this little prairie oasis. Who would have thought looking across that landscape that it would just drop off? With the weather in the low 70s and windy, we really enjoyed walking around and taking it all in.
Back on the road, we headed a little further north and into another state (Minnesota), to take a look at the Pipestone National Monument. Another nice place to walk on a beautiful day, this site is full of history. Native Americans from several tribes have quarried the unique stone here for hundreds (and possibly thousands) of years, using it to make pipes (hence the name pipestone). Still today, they arrive at the end of summer and early fall (to avoid snow and water in the pits in winter and spring) to dig out stone to keep their traditions and craftwork alive. To them, it is a sacred place; a place for cultural and religious ceremonies. As you walk through you occasionally see colorful cloth strips tied to tree limbs, left when they came to pray. There is a 3/4-mile circle trail where, in addition to the quarry, you can see and read about the tall-grass prairie and Winnewissa Falls. Like Devil’s Gulch, this place is a dip in the surrounding terrain, and is very beautiful. In the quarry pic below, the pipestone is the darker line at the bottom. It sits below the pinkish Sioux Quartzite, which is a very hard stone used in many buildings in the nearby town. There is also a rock pier called Old Stone Face. The story goes that young warriors would prove their bravery by leaping from the neighboring rock across the 12′ gap and putting an arrowhead into one of the cracks in the stone.
After thoroughly enjoying our walk and the sites (although the Visitor’s Center was closed for Covid), we headed back to Brutus and made our way back to the park.
The weather was a little warmer, but it was still nice outside with the breeze. I again set up shop at the picnic table. A few minutes later the neighbors came over to chat. (I spoke to them briefly the day before because they were pulling a Rockwood Mini-Lite like Penelope (a couple of years newer)). Turns out they were both school teachers from California. She had just topped the mountain of Stage IV cancer, surviving chemo. To celebrate, they bought an RV and hit the road. She said it taught her to live, and though she was still a little worn down sometimes, that is exactly what she planned to do. They had been on the road for several weeks and she was “in no hurry to get back to” their state. Bravo! We visited until their kids showed up (their son and his wife live in nearby Sioux Falls) and really enjoyed the conversation.
Say it with me: Wednesday was…laundry day!! I got a little bit of a late start, and as I headed out, I found I had a choice to make…
You should know by now that I headed right. That dirt road went for about 8 miles over to the outskirts of Sioux Falls, where there was a Kohl’s and a Christopher and Banks right down the road from the laundromat! Awesome! I finally made it to Uptown Laundry about noonish. (It was a good laundromat, but on the expensive side at $3.50 per small washer and $1.50 per dryer.) After returning, I had a couple of scheduled tax calls, then got ready for dinner. I even put on makeup! MW was taking me out to celebrate our 27th anniversary, which would be on September 3 (our travel day). Time is a funny thing. On the one hand, it seems like just yesterday, but on the other, we’ve been through so much together and it feels like it has always been. I’m thankful every day, though, that I walked into that Driver’s Ed class in eleventh grade (41 years ago) and met my best friend!
We originally talked about heading into Sioux Falls, but opted to stay in nearby Brandon and try the well-reviewed Brandon Steakhouse and Lounge. MW’s prime rib was very good, and my steak was cooked perfectly, but lacked any seasoning whatsoever. Just a little salt, pepper, and butter would have made it so much better. The atmosphere, however, was awful. It felt like you were having dinner in the back room of a Knights of Columbus or VFW. The exterior gave the feel of a strip mall. Inside were brown, square, formica tables that had seen better days; plain metal chairs; bent utensils; fluorescent lighting; and mostly bare or poorly decorated walls. Nothing about this place said restaurant dining room, much less delicious steak house. After dinner we stopped at the grocery store, then headed back to Petunia.
Big Sioux State Recreation Area is a fairly large park on the banks of the Big Sioux River. Amenities include hiking and biking trails, playgrounds, picnic areas and pavilions, disc golf, canoeing, archery, horse trails, fishing, and a beach. The campground offers 47 electric only (50 amp) and three tent campsites, plus three cabins. The facilities are clean and very nice, but it’s the sites that get the most accolades. Clean, shaded, well-spaced, and fairly level, this is a peaceful, beautiful campground. I really enjoyed the large, aluminum picnic tables that were perfect for enjoying a drink or getting a little work done. Electric sites are $34 per night which includes the daily $8 park entrance fee.
There was also a pretty neat homestead built around 1869 by immigrants from Norway.
One site, however, had this perplexing clump of lights on a tree. They glowed a bright bluish-white at night, lighting up everything nearby. (Thankfully, our site was around the bend.) I think it was supposed to be wrapped around more like a skirt, but seriously, why? I just don’t get coming out to a park where you could sit out and enjoy the stars, then lighting it all up.
Well, that’s it for now. Next up…The Capitol, The Governors, and a Jackass. See you on the road!
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