Hills of North and South Dakota – Spring of 2014

As we drive away from Mesa, a man is on a ladder handpicking oranges. Another guy is handpicking garbage on the manicured freeways as we pass Fountain Hills sign and the new cubs stadium on the 101. Open fields feeling as we pass the casino at Scottsdale. I am left wondering if what I am seeing next is a penitentiary or an animal holding place? Seeing housing developments are a good sign that the economy is building up again. The 303 is now in the suburbs where a red tailed hawk is dive bombing lunch. Drive near an hour to get to the the Outlets at Anthem. I start keeping track of the odometer reading; and as always, will keep track of km; gas; hotel and food cost. Elevation is 2000 feet as we say good-bye to the saguaros.

On top of a mesa at 3000 feet. Saguaros are gone. Looks like cattle ranching country. Badlands with vast mountain ranges in the distance. Oak tree shrubbery. Grey hills; then Red Rocks of Sedona.

“ An over the top Waskesiu,” Bob calls it. One hundred times bigger. Lilacs blooming. Rock fissure hillside and it is orangy red. Hair pin turns to the top of a mountain as we take a back road from Sedona to Flagstaff.

It starts snowing. I tell Bob I don’t think I can be a passenger in a cart behind a TRIKE motorcycle on a Cross Canada Tour; which he thinks would be fun. Then we are in Scotch pine or Pinion pine; anyway, a tall pine forest. Three hours from Phoenix and snow is laying on the forest floor as we leave Flagstaff for Albuquerque.

Now travelling across barren landscape and coming towards us is a line of trucks as far as the eye can see; carrying goods I guess from the east and headed towards Phoenix and Los Angelas. Cross winds come across; moving our jeep sideways. Natural land formation is like miles of gravel pits. Blowing dust. We are on Route 66. Knife City Outlet next to Geronimo; home of Navajo and Hopi Indians the sign says. We are driving through the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert; a mixture of Badlands and mounds of rocks upon rocks that are pink, yellows and greys; constantly changing colours as the light changes.

Highway Sign: “Caution – High winds. Blowing Dust”. Next one: “Entering Navajo Nation.” Horses on the red hillsides. Boarded up houses. Burned out homes. Unkempt properties. Mobile homes and rusting cars. Rock mountains all around with holes in them looking like giant anthills. We cross the New Mexico State Line. Good-bye Arizona.

We are in a valley and there are high canyon sides of gold coloured rock lining this valley highway. They are multi-layered to multi-colored, changing from greens to golds; browns to reds to pinks; as we cross the continental divide; still on Route 66. It’s like sandstone and rocky cliffs; then it’s ranching with oak like trees and shrubs to the right; then on the left is a red rock wall; like another canyon wall that goes on for miles and miles. First black field we’ve seen and black tires are on top of the mobile homes. We go through an industrialized area; then an Up Scale City called Gallup; now back to run down signs saying ‘Help for Problem Gamblers’, ‘Handbags for Sale’, ‘Discount Smoke Shop’, ‘Indian Jewelry’; red dirt and tumbleweed up against the fences. Junky, junky yards. Lots of people. No gardens. Food must be all in the truck convoys coming through.

In this town, see State Police, RV Parks, Petro, McDonalds & KFC, Lots of Trailers. Out of town and all the rock is Black, sharp, jagged rock like onyx. Looks like dirt but not. Burnt hot lava type rock. Sign said “ Elk next 7 miles.” Didn’t see any. Another sign: “Jesus is the Answer.”

More adobe type housing here. Now we are driving through miles of rocks the size of car hoods piled on top of each other. This the natural landscape. People have built houses at the very bottom of these rock boulder mountains. Wind socks are going straight sideways. Semis going sideways sometimes as well. A lot of motorhomes and trucks parked at the casinos.

We enjoy the Historic Old Town Walk in downtown Albuquerque; with the original adobe buildings. A Spanish style central square surrounds the church. It says Jesuits been serving here since 1706. Supposedly 500.000 inhabitants here. We walk past Rolling The Dough Bakery, Mexican Pottery and Tile shops; trip on crumbling sidewalks. Winding sidewalks take us past shops, patios, boutiques and galleries. The hotel put a little animal on our bed made out of a towel. There are crosses hanging all over the hallways. We ended our first day with hot Mexican food and a great marguerita. (Lime with triple sec was the makings of it.) We talk about why it’s called New Mexico.

THURSDAY APRIL 3/14: We head into the high country of Santa Fe; population 68000. Altitude at 7000 is the highest altitude in the U. S. According to the guidebook. It’s a frosty 2 degrees with white capped mountain tops to the north. We have snow flurries for about 20 miles and then beautiful blue sunny day an hour later. Now 7 degrees in Las Vegas, New Mexico. Questioning whether we are seeing antelope or big horn sheep in the distance. A lot less traffic today. Reading to Bob from the short story book, “A Country Year – Living the Questions by Sue Hubbel; as we drive this prairie grass; ranch looking country with no cattle or few cattle.

It’s now noon and we are in a snowy, wintry squall on the mountainous Santa Fe Trail. Sign says “Scenic View 2 miles ahead.” I think not. Can barely see the car in front of us. Was 3 degrees; now down to 0 as we climb yet another pass. We enter Colorado and are on a steep downhill grade when Bob says, “at least we have good traction.” We are behind a wide tired Corvette . Hope his is as well. Snow drifts lick the highway. I’d call this Snowy Outlook instead of Scenic Outlook. I saw a Best Western Sign and said, “we could pull off and spend the afternoon in bed.”

Drive through a town called Pueblo, Colorado. We have ice falling off the Jeep. We see cars carrying four inches of snow. We stop at Colorado Springs for half a sandwich and tea. I was getting grouchy. Between there and Denver looking like winter wonderland. Roads are good.

Then we’re in a one hour Denver rush hour traffic jam. An accident, says the radio. Get out of Denver and 10 above. Green fields. Beautiful day. Who knew? This is what I expected wearing my capris.

Welcome to Wyoming. “Forever West,” it says. Buffalo on hill. A tour of state buildings in downtown Cheyenne. Government town; rail hub; nice homes in the suburbs; rolling hills like Alberta foothills as we leave our Super 8 the next morning.

We leave the interstate. Dry roads. Sunny day. Head for Torrington on Hwy 85. Cattle ranches with cattle. Hear meadowlarks from inside the jeep. Evergreens and bushes planted around the yards; otherwise the horizon stretches before us like grasslands. Last fall’s seeded crop is coming up green. See a red winged blackbird, yellow oriole, small wren type bird and a hawk.

Now we’re travelling the backwoods; only no woods. Houses are rough. Badlands are ahead of us. “Pretty wild country,” says Bob. Birds are singing. 5 above. Trees are starting to bud. Rock formations that look like castles. Closer to town; horse country. Horse trailers everywhere. Signs say “Homemade Saddles for Sale,” Four out of Three People Struggle with Math,” “Fireworks for Sale.”

Out in the open again. Pronghorn Antelope cross the road in front of us. They jump the fence to join hundreds in open pastureland. We gas up at a small town called Lusk. No more services for 87 miles. As leave town, sign says, “Return to town if lights are flashing.” We can tell it snowed yesterday. Clear today.

Up and into the Black Hills of South Dakota. We climb into a forest of scotch pine. I see the four deer on the hillside; but can also see how they blend in at this time of year. We do a tour of the town of Custer; then drive up the mountain to see the partially finished statue of Crazy Horse and the four presidents of Mount Rushmore. Through the Town of Keystone; reminded us a little of Banff; not that big though.

We are then hours in cattle land; grassland grazing land. Saw an actual cowboy cattle drive happening beside us. Still hearing the meadowlarks. Rocks the size of a hockey rink; black and one of them might be sitting by itself in 10 square miles of flat land. We get it why it’s called the black hills.

At the border of North Dakota, our odometer reads 88,888. Excellent roads. More and more snow and snow drifts in the ditches. See first skidoo and then a colourful ring necked pheasant. Oil boom happening here. Wonder if we’ll get a room.

We did.

We are driving away during a 6:20 am, Saturday April 5, 2014 sunrise from the Trapper’s Inn Lodge. A Trapper’s Hall of Fame was part of the deal; our evening’s entertainment. Sculptures of bison, a horse and trophy heads galore: elk, deer locking horns; whole bear stuffed; coyotes; the whole skin hanging from every kind of trap. The salad bar was in a canoe. We listened to the daily happenings of the oil workers and truck drivers in a bar room that looked like the inside of a cabin. The outside pool had the look of a fort surrounding it, and a teepee off to the side. Place full of young men; big trucks; and outside; the smell of diesel fuel.

As we are leaving; it’s hard to get on the highway with 10 big trucks coming at us; we do get on with 5 right behind us. Sign: “Theodore Roosevelt National Park” and I could be wrong; seemed like there are oil pumpers on it. We have had good roads the whole trip and have been on about 2500 km of them. Come into an area that looks like the Drumheller Badlands. Had no idea North Dakota had landscape like it. It’s called Little Missouri National Grasslands with bighorn sheep and a two lane passing lane to get up and out of it. We are then on top of grasslands again.

Into Waford City. I’d call it a Camper City; fifth wheels and mobile home parks. We have a truck stop breakfast; a truck stop bigger than a cosco; scrambled eggs and bacon; could have had catfish, biscuits and gravy. Notice a farmer puts seven mobile homes in yard; then a mile away on bald prairie; are five mobile homes end to end with a two car garage on each of them; with a septic tank in each back yard.

Many places look like motor home junk yards; with blue tarps; snow fences around them. We missed the turn to Canada and had a 15 minute drive back to find it. Head north on a quiet road. After three hours of crazy busy oil trucks; peaceful road. We do wonder why they are putting in new power and telephone lines instead of burying them.

Big time stormy rain cloud bursts 5 minutes before the border and lasts 5 minutes after. No issue at the border.

Onto patched, bouncy road in Saskatchewan. No fences here; had always seen them south of the border. Here seeing grain storage; looks like natural part of the landscape. Township signs instead of county signs. Small farms, more people, hedge rows. Lines of maple trees around old yard sites. And then we see the oil pumpers. 68 is the number I can count when I swivel my head in all directions.

Water in the ditches. 8 degrees. Blue sunny skies; flat farmland. We talk of the thousands of men who have moved to North Dakota, Weyburn, Estevan areas for money.

A highway accident ahead sends us down a 5 mile detour on a dirt road between Weyburn and Regina. A bald eagle flies over. Back on the highway with Tim Horton cup litter. Looks like spring in Regina. Lumsdon lunch. Hundreds of deer by Blackstrap.

Have to dig out my key. $730.00 for gas, food and hotels for the 3340 km trip.


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