Summer 2014: Alaska via the AlCan, Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse Memorial in SD

On Wednesday morning, we left Wall and made our way through the edges of the South Dakota Badlands toward Mt. Rushmore. We stayed on the interstate although the scenic loop through the Badlands was only 43 miles. We hadn’t yet fully acclimated to the amount of freedom our schedule provided. We were still able to see the Badlands though.
The giant granite carving of Mt. Rushmore is truly an American icon as a monument to freedom and greatness that are close to our hearts. Informally, the sculpture there has become an icon of the Great American Roadtrip Vacation which is somewhat fitting. It turns out that Mt. Rushmore shares more than geography with Wall Drug and the Corn Palace. Mt. Rushmore’s sculpture was intended to encourage tourism and get more people to visit that part of our great country. (By the way, 70 years later its still working as evidenced by our stop and the crowds that accompanied us that day. Annually, nearly 2 million people visit the monument.)
Admission to Mt. Rushmore is free but there is a charge for parking in the multi-level parking structure. Your parking fee is a one-time payment valid for the entire calendar year for that vehicle though.
When initially conceived, the sculpture included Lewis & Clark; Bill Cody and Red Cloud, a Sioux Chief representing heroes of the west. To increase its appeal, a national focus was determined to include the four Presidents we see there today. Doane Robinson, a South Dakota historian, is credited with being the initial champion of the concept.
There are varying (but similar) stories on why each was chosen
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Washington: Birth of a nation and the struggle for independence
Jefferson: Expansion of a nation through the Louisiana Purchase and the belief of a government by the people
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Lincoln: Preservation of the Union and Equality and Permanence
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Roosevelt: Economic development of the USA, world prominence or the forward thinking of a National Parks system.
There was some thought of expanding the sculpture in 1937 to include Susan B. Anthony but the legislation precluded expansion, or scope creep. The original plans included sculpting from the waist up but construction stopped as it it is today in 1941. We also ran across at least one reference that Calvin Coolidge declared that the four chosen had to be party-balanced.
With all that background out of the way, I want to make sure to pass along that it is truly magnificent and breathtaking.
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Beginning with the roadway in, the scenery is fantastic and there are ample opportunities to view the surrounding landscapes from various locations.
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Once you’ve parked, you enter the National Monument by passing the gift shops, information booths, exhibits and eateries. Leaving there, you proceed along a majestic walkway adorned with flags from every state leading towards an amphitheater that allows you to just sit and stare or contemplate.
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From there, you can walk along a path (handicap accessible) towards the base of the monument. Along this path, you can see a more natural surrounding and eventually reach a display that includes some teepee structures and an exhibit of a small Native American camp with music and a Ranger-provided talk.
From that point, you can look up at George Washington’s chin and proceed further along a trail in front of the base. I’m not certain of the official rating but that part of the trail, while still relatively easy walking seemed to not be accessible to some with handicaps.
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This part of the trail seemed to provide a spot where you could view each President individually.
As the boardwalked trail becomes steeper, you eventually wind your way down to the artist’s studio where there are several displays including mockups of the initial sculpture. Outside there is an old generator and compressor setup that was used in the carving.
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Surprising to us, there is a mockup of a Hall of Records, an archival room for documents relating to the construction of the monument. While not initially included, it has eventually been built and really exists behind President Lincoln’s head.
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We climbed the uneven and steep (but solid) stone stairway back up to the entrance plaza were we lunched on bison burgers before checking the gift shop for postcards and continuing on our way to our next stop.
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Just 16 miles away, on the other side of Harney Peak in the Black Hills National Forest is a memorial in progress, the pink-granite monument to Crazy Horse. The Crazy Horse monument is privately owned and financed and has refused government funding.
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The Crazy Horse monument’s reluctant sculptor is Korczak Ziolkowski and his descendants. Ziolkowski won a prize in 1939 and was invited by Chief Henry Standing Bear to create a tribute to the North American Indians. Ziolkowski initially declined. Chief Standing Bear said, “My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know the red man has great heroes too.”
There was some disagreement about who the model for the sculpture should be and Crazy Horse was eventually chosen as he had a reputation for fairness and a dedication that shunned the limelight.
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Ziolkowski had worked with Borglum on the final stages of Mt. Rushmore for a time. Conflicting stories appear as to whether he left because the work was done or because of a falling out. At any rate, in 1947, Ziolkowski had been convinced and returned to begin the work. The first blast was in June 1948. As he was working with limited funds, he was also using used equipment and with limited funding, he was often working by himself. He would tell stories of starting the compressor for the drills and beginning the long arduous ladder climb and hear the compressor chug to a halt before he had reached the top and was able to start working, necessitating the long climb down the mountain to restart the equipment and cimb back up.
According to our tour guide, Ziolkowski would work while he had funds and then would stop and do other things, including cutting timber from the property to sell. He also managed to buy up parcels of surrounding land and sometimes trade with the NPS to allow them to build contiguous parcels around Rushmore while he gathered contiguous parcels around the Crazy Horse Memorial.
This is the largest in-progress stone sculpture in the world. By way of comparison, the four Presidents’ sculpted heads (at 60 feet each) could all fit inside the horse’s head.
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Mr. Ziolkowski knew the sculpture could not be completed in his lifetime but he took on the project anyway. To believe in a vision that you know you will not see completed and to sacrifice to make it happen is a strong story, especially in this day of instant gratification. He married in 1950 and they had 10 children, six of whom remain involved in the foundation and the sculpture today. He died in 1982. His wife, Ruth, ran the foundation until her death in May 2014.
When asked, Mrs. Z declined to provide an estimate of the expected cost of the monument, saying only that she expected the funds invested in the first 50 years was likely less than the cost remaining. She also expected that the timeline would still stretch for decades.
The Ziolkowski’s started a foundation which includes the museums and a scholarship fund, primarily for Native American students attending schools in South Dakota.
The annual visitation for the uncompleted monument is over 1 million and the grounds include a museum of Native American life as well as the sculptor’s home. Additionally, the site includes a shop where Native crafters display and sell their wares.
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The first definable feature, the rider’s face, 26.67 meters (87ft 6in) high, was completed in 1998, in time for the 50th anniversary of the very first blast. Work subsequently began on the next phase – the horse’s head, 66.75 meters high. Although there is still no estimated completion date, Ruth never lost her faith that her husband’s vision would eventually be realized; she said her wish was to “live more years than possible because I would love to see it finished”.
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Crazy Horse, who was one of the leading figures in the Native American defeat of General Custer at the battle of Little Bighorn in 1876, pointing towards his prairie heartland. “My lands are where my dead lie buried.”
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We spent the night in Custer SD.
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You can see all of the pictures from this leg of the trip here.

We invite you to continue along with us and hope you enjoy the account!

Summer 2014: Alaska via the AlCan, Maryland to South Dakota

Sunday, July 6th had finally arrived. It was time to begin the big adventure. As it was the third day of the 4th of July holiday weekend, we had thoughts of getting an early start to avoid the leaving Washington traffic. It was probably a good idea but…we pulled out of the driveway at 11:15. It was still morning but hardly qualified as an early start. Thankfully, traffic was not particularly heavy as we headed west on I70 out of Frederick but by the time we reached Breezewood, PA (our usual entry point to the PA Turnpike), the usual weekend stop and go stretched for a couple of miles. It was a good time for lunch. When we came back out, it was apparent that the route onto the turnpike would be a grind but that traffic going west on Hwy 30 was very light. In our first “let’s see where this goes” move, we headed west on 30 and joined up with the turnpike in Bedford.
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This part of the trip is one we’ve done several times over the years while Ryan was at college so our focus was on covering miles. We stopped the first night in Fremont IN where we discovered (quite by accident) that hotel nightly rates are sometimes negotiable. Keith hadn’t engaged the filters and said “ouch” when told what the rate was. The desk clerk asked what we had expected to pay and lowered the rate. Hmmm, might come in handy to know that later.
We did manage to get a slightly earlier start on Monday at 10:00 although we were now in Central time zone. We’re still making miles and decide to skip the RV/Motorhome Hall of Fame in Elkhart IN.
Stopping for gas, we start a conversation with a gentleman from Nokesville VA. He seemed a little surprised we knew where Nokesville was. He’s probably my age, maybe a little older. He and his wife were traveling west with his inlaws in a motorhome towing a Jeep. Their trip was to celebrate an 80th birthday for one of the inlaws. Wanderlust doesn’t give up easily, I guess.
Continuing on I90, we manage to make Chicago in time to decide that there are some places where traffic is a constant and that’s not a good thing. While there was likely a better way to get past it, we follow I90 which leads us right through the construction zones downtown. But we did see the Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) and the glass-floored viewing platforms (from the ground, not up close and personal).
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I90 takes us past Janesville, also known as the hometown of 2012 VP candidate, Rep Paul Ryan. We also pass the state capital, Madison.
North of Madison and just before I90 and I94 part ways, we pass Camp Douglas, the location for Mill Bluff State Park. During WWI, the site was chosen as a permanent training center in part because of the terrain, such as the stone pillars seen in the picture. DSCF9198During the Cuban Missile Crisis, a black bear caused the nuclear-armed bombers to scramble. You can read more about that here.
We also saw a weather front moving across rather dramatically. The rain never really materialized for us. DSCF6097
We cross the Mississippi into Minnesota and eventually arrive in Rochester MN, home of the world-renowned Mayo Clinic. We stayed in the suburbs next to the fairgrounds and had a view of the Rochester skyline.
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Our hotel was a shuttle stop for multiple shuttles running in to the Clinic each day. While we expected that to be somewhat depressing as folks who are visiting the Clinic are often seriously, even life-threateningly ill but the mood seemed pretty upbeat. Also, our hotel featured a bronze Viking sculpture in the lobby.
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The fairgrounds also had a water tower sculpture of a corn cob which reminded us of the Peachoid in Gaffney SC.
An even earlier start on Tuesday morning as we continued west on I90. Farms dotted the landscape and we passed numerous power-generating windmills.
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DSCF6167 While it may be commonplace to those in those areas, we were surprised to see the railroad crossing style arms for blocking off the highway during blizzard conditions.
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Although the temperature was well into the mid 80s, the humidity was low and the continuing breeze kept things pleasant, even bordering on cool.
We crossed into South Dakota on our way to the Corn Palace in Mitchell. The Corn Palace was mentioned to us as a possible stop when I had called the Credit Card company. When she was a child, her family trip across this part of the country included a stop at the Corn Palace which she had specifically remembered from that childhood trip.
The Corn Palace is located in the center of Mitchell (right next to City Hall). Its original purpose was partly to be a tourist attraction decorated with corn cob and husk murals. It also used as an auditorium, a sports venue, the High School Prom and other civic functions.
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After a short visit to the Corn Palace (where the murals are being redone for the coming year), we were back onto I90 and headed towards the Missouri River. This crossing marked a first for both of us.
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South Dakota marks their rest areas with a rather unique concrete structure recognizing the teepees of the Native Americans.
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The landscape seems to stretch forever with a gentle roll as we get closer to the SD Badlands.
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We continued towards another tourist attraction, the Wall Drug complex in Wall SD. Wall Drug is and was first a drug store/pharmacy for the people of Wall SD. It was purchased in 1929 and has a become a popular tourist attraction and example of the power of marketing, initiated with giving away free ice water. See more of the history here. It is now a complex of shopping and a landmark from the early days of automotive travel.
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After a piece of pie and 5 cents cups of coffee, we stopped in Wall for the night.
You can see all of the pictures from this leg of the trip here.

We invite you to continue along with us and hope you enjoy the account!

Summer 2014: Alaska via the AlCan Begins

In the early 50s, Mom and Dad went up and down the AlCan twice with my sisters (before I was born). In those days, mobile homes were still pretty mobile. On the second trip, they pulled their Spartan mobile home behind the Packard on the way up and behind a Chevy pickup on the way down.
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Traveling along with them on the way to Alaska were 4 other families, also pulling their own mobile homes. The adults in those five families were lifelong friends, in part due to their shared adventures. To the best of my knowledge, two of the wives are still alive. I know my Mom stayed in touch with those folks until her death in 2007.
On that second trip, Mom had an Argus C3 that she bought with money earned from baking pies which Dad sold at work. I heard about their trip my entire life and saw the pictures and had this trip on my “bucket list” before I knew what a bucket list was. You can find quite a few of Mom’s pictures here.
On Sunday, July 6, 2014, Betty, my wife and I loaded up our Chevy Colorado and left Maryland with plans to reach Alaska and to retrace some of their route.
Much of the 1950s AlCan highway no longer exists. The AlCan was hastily constructed in 1942 as a means to reach from the contiguous United States to the Alaska territory as part of the effort to defend the territory against the Japanese in World War II and also to enable the transport of US warplanes to Russia, our allies in WWII.
Our 2014 trip included trying to re-trace part of their route and also to visit some places we’d not seen before. Our trip included time in National and state parks as well as kitschy tourist destinations along the way.
DSCF6803Our trip was taken in a Chevy Colorado crew cab pickup truck. There was no trailer but we did have a shell on the back and had taken the rear seat out to accommodate a 43 quart refrigerator/freezer that ran off of the 12 VDC accessory plug along with a spare battery. We packed a small bag with 3 or 4 outfits of shorts and t-shirts, a larger bag with several changes of warmer clotes and a loose bag with our winter coats, gloves and boots. We packed some basic foods, a camp stove, some cheese sticks and trail mix. We also had 2 spare tires, a container with an extra 5 gallons of gasoline and my toolbox and recovery equipment and a first aid kit and fire extinguisher. Electronics included our two cell phones, the truck’s OnStar setup, a laptop PC, a digital Fuji camera, a CB radio, a Ham 2M handheld, and a device called a SPOT tracker for emergency communications and routine checking in via satellite. See Find Me Spot
Along the way, we did laundry using a 5 gallon plastic bucket (originally a deli-sized container of pickle chips) with a gamma — leak resistant — sealed lid to wash clothes. We would add the dirty clothes, a little detergent and about 4 gallons of water and let it ride in the back of the truck to agitate. At night, we would take the bucket inside with us and rinse the clothes then hang them on plastic hangers from a ratchet strap strung between the two rear seat assist handles in the truck. Got a few odd looks at border crossings but it worked out well.
DSCF6352DSCF6353DSCF6842By way of preparation, we had to prepare to leave the house for 6 weeks to 2 months (our itenerary was fluid). This meant paying the routine bills (utilities, storage rental, newspaper, cellphones) in advance as we don’t use online banking or bill paying; arranging for the grass to be cut, the mail held and the newspaper delivery stopped. We also notified a few close, strategically-located neighbors of our coming absence and expected comings and goings around the house. We also attempted (unsuccessfully) to arrange for some Canadian cash through our bank and made certain our credit card company was aware we would be on the road and expecting to use the card in places and with frequency outside our normal usage patterns.
The Washington Post didn’t manage to process the vacation hold on the newspaper but our neighbor intercepted most of the unplanned deliveries. Bank of America couldn’t process our request for Canadian cash in sufficient time to get our cash before we left but a TD Bank in Alberta accepted our ATM (ABM for you Canadians) card to dispense the desired currency. One of the lamps on a timer at home decided to blow the bulb sometime (1 day? 6 weeks?) before we returned. The credit card was refused once on our trip but we think that may have been input error by the hotel rather than an issue with the CC company. Of all the logistics to be arranged, these were minor glitches that had minimal impact in the grand scheme of things.
A few statistics for your consideration.
Total driven miles: 11,704
Gasoline consumption: 556 US gallons at an average cost of $4.20 per gallon.
40 hotel nights and one on the ferry between Haines AK and Prince Rupert BC
14 states traveled and 3 Canadian provinces
1 flat tire and 1 cracked windshield
Most days, we posted up to 10 pictures on Facebook which some of you have already seen. This blog will share our story and give you a chronological account of our trip along with some more pictures and the story behind some of those pictures you’ve already seen.
We invite you to come along with us and hope you enjoy the account!

Boardwalks, Bunkers, Bungalows, Beaches, Birds and Bombs

The Delaware Beaches of Rehoboth, Lewes and Cape Henlopen
Our travels around this great country are multipurpose. One purpose is trying to decide where we want to live in our retirement. That quest led us to spend some time not far from home but new to us, the Delaware Beaches which includes for our purpose, Rehoboth Beach, Dewey Beach, Bethany Beach and Lewes. We’ve made two trips there so far and the pictures are from both trips.

DSCN7943On our first trip over the long Presidents’ Day weekend, we stayed at the Hampton Inn on Coastal Hwy. It is a little less than 4 miles to the Boardwalk at Rehoboth Beach. Boardwalks are fairly common in the middle Atlantic Beaches from about Ocean City northward. Rehoboth’s is actually made of boards and is somewhat deserted in the middle of February. We walked around a bit (in the cold) and the carnival midway gameroom and several eateries including fries, hot dogs and the like. There are several hotels on the boardwalk (along with condos) that look to have a great view. Much of the area surrounding the boardwalk look to be houses that are rented for the week or the season. Driving north there are more extensive condo developments and a park leading past the Gordon Flats Wildlife area and into Cape Henlopen State Park.

DSCN7956 Walking along the beach, we found two of these. They aren’t lighthouses, the doors at the bottom are sealed and the openings higher up aren’t covered. We pondered and looked but came up with no answers yet. As we rode around later, we discovered there are more of them spread along the coast. There are three south of Dewey Beach and at least three further north before Lewes. One of the towers south of Dewey offered a clue in the form of a website link on a sign next to the highway. Save the Tower They’re WWII fire control towers, built to guard the entrance to the Delaware Bay.

The towers are open on top with a wide slit running halfway around the circumference. They were manned by lookoutsPhoto-0029

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Photo-0037 and specialists who calculated the trajectory and angle of the artillery fire. Perhaps most amazing in this age is that the calculations didn’t have modern electronics (calculators, computers) to assist. A combination of the known distance between two towers and the height of the observation deck allowed the personnel to triangulate and located the precise location of a target and feed the necessary information to an armed battery. We couldn’t find information on how successful these efforts were as the towers at Henlopen weren’t tested in actual combat. More of the towers were erected (perhaps 1000) along the coastline as far north as Maine and New Hampshire. Many of them have been destroyed although a few remain, both on privately and publicly owned property.

One of the towers at Cape Henlopen has been repurposed by the Delaware Pilots Association to watch the Delaware Bay entrance and the ship traffic there. Delaware Pilots Association tower Also check out the Delaware Seashore Preservation Foundation.

For some reason the towers really captured our attention and we made a point to see as many of them as we could while we were there. It did seem that we were jinxed on trying to get pictures of the inside of one. When we visited in February (and they were closed), the battery in the camera died just before we tried to sneak an inside picture and again in July, the camera batteries died when we climbed the tower at Cape Henlopen State Park but we did get a couple of lower quality shots with the old cell phone.

DSCN7970Within the confines of Cape Henlopen State Park are the remnants of Ft. Miles. Ft. Miles is about 5000 acres in size and was an active military installation from 1941 until 1996. There is an ongoing effort to preserve and restore much of the history of the post, originally constructed to help protect the oil depots and refineries as well as the port of Philadelphia during WWII. Luckily for the preservation-minded, the 261st Coastal Artillery was somewhat practiced at rust prevention techniques. The naturally-occurring sand dunes helped form protection for the underground bunkers for DSCN7987storage and personnel.

Strategic placement at the mouth of the Delaware Bay helped ensure the area’s involvement in US history dating back to the War of 1812. The town of Lewes is home to the Cannonball House. The Cannonball House is home to the Lewes Historical Society’s Maritime Museum and is famous in part because of the cannonball embedded in its stone foundation since the war of 1812. Across the street from the Cannonball House is the War of 1812 Park. The Park is the site for Lightship Overfalls and the Lewes Life Saving Station, both the subject of local preservation efforts. Lightship OverfallsLewes is also at one end of the Cape May-Lewes ferry run, connecting to the NJ peninsula. We didn’t make that trip this time around but had ridden the ferry back in the early 1980s.

We had contacted Deb Griffin , a local Realtor, and told her we were interested in visiting the area and were looking for some guidance. She agreed to guide for us and show us some houses while we were there. As its turned out, Deb has given us 3 days of her time in person (plus her prep time) and shown us a variety of homes in our price range and shown us some of the local color and significant spots. We haven’t yet decided just where the heck we’re going to wind up but certainly appreciate her combined goodwill ambassador and real estate/tour guide efforts. She’s also pointed us at some good restaurants in the area.

Three eateries stand out as being especially good for us among the locals.

We had dinner one evening at Henlopen City Oyster House. Their menu changes daily and has an abundance of seafood dishes, including a sampler of oysters on the half shell (which we didn’t try).  Feeling a bit adventurous, I had the Day Boat Scallops which were a combo of broiled scallops with bacon, caramel and plantains. Absolutely delicious and served with potatoes and broccoli that evening.

Lunch one day was at Tout de Suite Patisserie at Paynter’s  Mill in Milton. We opted for a light lunch although the bakery cases were filled with yummy- (and very rich) looking pastries and desserts. The soup and sandwich were quite the treat as well and worthy of a return visit.

We also grabbed a late lunch at the Pickled Pig Pub on the Coastal Hwy in Rehoboth and I’ll recommend the Cuban Press as being delicious and filling.

Of course, there is a variety of the expected chain eateries including Panera and IHOP. I think we will need to be careful of our eating or take up a more active lifestyle should the Rehoboth area win the decision for a retirement locale.

You can see all the pictures from the Delaware beaches by clicking the highlighted text.

Desert Expedition III: Nevada – Post 7 — West to East – Nevada to Maryland and Home

The air had turned cooler overnight and the wind had picked up as well. We hadn’t gotten the showers but there had been wind-driven sprinkles. Although we planned to go to Great Basin today, it didn’t look like a great day for being out and about. It was time to head home. Gary and Ace weren’t outside yet but they were both up as I’d heard them stirring around. I packed up and told them I was heading for home.
Ace gave me directions to hit Rt. 50 which should make for a scenic drive home. I was planning to take a bit more time headed east than I had taken going west.
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The last 5 miles to US 50 were windy and raining pretty hard. Maybe it would be better once I crossed the ridge.
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I drove on through the rain through Eureka and Ely with no signs of clearing.
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50 is called the Lincoln Highway and was built to connect the country’s east and west coasts. Parts of the Pony Express routes follow roughly the same lines.
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By the time I had reached I80 and the Utah state line, the weather had let up a bit so I decided to hit the Nevada Welcome Station on the way out of state. The woman working at the tourist info desk was a bounty of information. She asked where I was going and I told her I was headed for home after a week of ghost towns. I asked about non-camping accommodations as Betty and I had toyed with making a similar trip without the camping. She told me that in the small mining towns, upwards of 60% of the hotel rooms were occupied by workers at the mines or construction. Further south, where we had been it was closer to 40%. The point being that a trip such as ours without camping that you should make reservations before arriving. She also had two audio CDs provided by BLM for a car tour of the mining areas and the Pony Express routes.
I hit the road and quickly was back into the rain. As I crossed over the Bonneville Salt Flats, I noticed another teardrop headed west.
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The scenery continued to be great, even though the rains continued.
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Crossing into Wyoming, the rains continued. Spending most of my life on the East Coast, I’m still taken aback when I see a road this long and straight.
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In Wyoming, I decided it was time to stop fighting the rain and check into a motel. A hot shower and a comfy bed worked wonders.
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The weather continued (sort of like on the trip west) to be unsettled. From the limited weather information, I had thoughts of possibly driving out of it eventually. Radio weather reports and severe warnings usually give the county affected. As a traveler, I’ll usually know what city I’m near but not always what county so word of Tornado Watches for XYZ County just meant somewhere nearby but could have been in front of me or behind me, who knows?
On the whole trip, I’ve mentioned that the only reptiles I saw were lizards. When I stopped at a Nebraska rest area, I’ll admit the thought that crossed my mind was “We’re going to argue natives versus tourists here?”
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Nebraska does do well with the promoting local tourism though. Almost every exit had an 8×10 feet sign in color advising of tourist attractions at that or an upcoming exit. Not just “Historic Marker 500 feet”. That’s how I found this original Pony Express station when I had to stop for fuel.
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I kept seeing the heavy clouds and lightning and hearing reports of severe weather. Going through my mind was the notion that perhaps I would be in more danger if I stopped for the night than if I just kept going and was aware of what was going on around me. This kept me going until well after midnight and into Iowa where I pulled into a rest stop for some sleep in the Little Guy.
I did discover that Iowa rest stops along I80 all have free wifi!
By the next morning, the sun was shining and it was an uneventful trip through Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and into Maryland and home!
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It was a great trip with some quality folks. I got to see things I’d never seen and learned more about the area. I also learned a few things about this type of travel (overlanding or travel camping) where you’re in a different place each night. I identified a few things that need adjustment to the truck, the trailer and the way I pack.

Where to next?

More photos from this leg of the trip.

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Desert Expedition III: Nevada – Post 6 – Goldfield, Tonopah, Manhattan, Belmont and Pine Creek Campground

Alas, Monday morning comes and folks have places to be, loved ones to see and commitments to be met. We bid adieu to the others but Gary, Ace and I stayed together with plans to see some more and hoped to make it to Great Basin National Park.
We left and headed back to Tonopah for re-provisioning. Along the way, we passed through Goldfield NV but didn’t stop. Goldfield is more recent town which grew from the discovery of gold in 1902. Mining until 1940, over $86 million was extracted. Much of the town was destroyed by a fire in 1923, although several buildings survived and remain today, notably the Goldfield Hotel, the Consolidated Mines Building (the communications center of the town until 1963), and the schoolhouse. Gold exploration still continues in and around the town today. The hotel is not currently open and some accounts describe it as haunted. There is an ongoing effort to restore many of the old buildings and build the tourist trade. You can find out more at Ghost Town Operations.com website.
Teddy Roosevelt visited Goldfield and there is a story that Wyatt Earpp came to Goldfield after the Gunfight at the OK Corral but there is little to support that. It is confirmed that his brother, Virgil, worked, lived and died in Goldfield although he is buried in Portland, Oregon.
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The school is the building in the right of the picture above.
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RV parking behind the casino in Tonopah.
Continuing along to Manhattan, we find another town’s mainstreet which has obvously seen better days.
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This church, which sets on a hill above Manhattan’s main street was orignially constructed in Belmont.
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We stopped for lunch outside of town and then went on to Belmont, NV.
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Although closed this day, there are still accommodations to be had at the old Combination Miining Co. building, including the Old Boots Saloon.
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Remains of the bank.
Belmont is the site of a spring used by the Shoshone. In 1865, the discovery of silver ore led to a boom that eventually led to the buildup of a commercial center including schools, a post office, a newspaper and eventually becoming the county seat of Nye County from 1867 to 1905.
Belmont was known as a rowdy town with saloons, a red light district and various ethnic neighborhoods. Roughly $4 million was extracted from the shallow ore.
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Courthouse from the days of County seat.
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Remnants of the Combination Mining Mill in East Belmont.
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We traveled further north and found a spot for the night in the Pine Creek Campground in the Toiyabe National Forest.
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The weather forecasts were calling for cold, possible rain/sleet and this spot seemed fairly sheltered.

More photos from this leg of the trip.

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Desert Expedition III: Nevada – Post 5 – Silver Peak and Gold Point NV

Sunday we visited Silver Peak and Gold Point. These two fit the definition of a ghost town that is still alive but significantly less-populated than in their peak times.
To get to Silver Peak, we headed back in the direction of Tonopah and the highway. We turned off and stopped at a crossroads at Pearl Springs. In this location, the water supplies for several settlements branched out. We again found koi in the pool. This spot was marked as private property so our views were limited and we moved on.
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Signs warned of road construction on our way to Silver Peak. On the approach to SIlver Peak, we spotted a large lake with aqua/turquoise blue water, obviously showing the effects of chemical content. The lake and its surrounding activity are parts of the active lithium mining by Rockwood Lithium, taking place in the area.
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Silver Peak still has a post office along with the building that was formerly the post office. There are several commercial buildings, including a 6 unit motel along the center of the town, most of which have sale or lease signs in the window. As a note of comparison, there are photos on the web from 2000 that show many of these buildings having operating businesses.
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We left Silver Peak en route to Gold Point. Along the way, Michael experienced his second blowout of the trip.
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While we had been in Tonopah on Saturday, Michael had attempted to replace the first blown tire but unfortunately found a merchant who believed that his role was to soak every customer once while you had the chance. This tire store in Tonopah is closed on weekends, there may be others where you would have a much better experience. Among the many other charges, a weekend callout fee was included in the $600 the merchant wanted to replace the first blown out tire. Michael declined and decided to chance it without a spare of his own but his luck didn’t carry him through. In the picture, you can plainly see the blown rear tire while everyone is working on the front. The thought process was to put the off-sized spare on the non-drive front and move the same size front to the rear to avoid excessive wear on the rear driveline. It seemed like a good idea at the time. As it worked out, the odd size tire interfered with the brakes operation and they wound up having to switch the tires back before Michael was able to move. We located another tire store across the line in California that would open on Sunday and had two tires in stock that combined cost less than the one in Tonopah. Michael spoke later of how the guy there was very thorough and customer-oriented. I don’t know the names of the two tire stores involved and don’t wish to mislead but advise the reader to proceed with caution if you’re in a similar situation.
While Michael went off to tend to tires, the rest of us went on to Gold Point with plans to meet up later that day. The meetup didn’t happen until the next morning. This is testimony as to why the longer range HAM radio has a place in desert traveling over the limited range CB radio. Enough about all that.
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Gold Point is a tourist destination with an active, though maybe limited, tourism industry to support the preservation of the town. Memorial Day weekend is designated as paranormal weekend and Labor Day weekend also has a theme which escapes me at the moment. As part of the festivities, there was a parade through town which included clowns, the transparent woman and even a unicycle rider.
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Gold Point’s preservation/restoration is a project largely credited to Sheriff Stone. To help raise funds for the restoration, several of the houses are available for rent on the weekends. Stone also prepares quite a spread for breakfast and dinner for a reasonable price. We decided to hang around for steak dinner.
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There are a number of old fire trucks on the property as well. I never quite got the connection unless its another hobby of a collector.
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For over 20 years now Walt and I, with many thousands of dollars from our own money from working, have been purchasing building materials and working on all the different cabins and buildings. It takes thousands of dollars to rebuild and preserve even a small old miner’s cabin, and we have 12, not to mention the other bigger buildings, so it’s been a slow process. Each year we find the price of wood products continues to climb.

It takes a lot of different materials to save a cabin. The only thing we generally do to the outside is put on a roof. We try not to put on any new wood unless absolutely necessary. Rolled asphalt roofing is usually applied first. Then as we get the extra money we put on the cedar shingles.

Inside is a little more complex. These 100 year old cabins and buildings were built without any framing like we build today. The walls are only as thick as the 1 x 12 inch board and bats that were used. We go in and strip the walls down to the original walls and then build a 2 x 4 frame inside. This stabilizes the cabin tremendously. We can then install the electrical wires, insulation, sheet rock, paint and/or old newspapers or old fashioned wall paper, carpet, curtains and finally furniture. From www.GoldPointGhostTown.com

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We visited the open businesses including the saloon and the mercantile and got some hints for a spot to camp that night. We had an interesting discussion with one of the landowners/residents who told us a bit about what its like to live in a place like this. This particular resident has retired and stays in Gold Point mainly but also has a second home elsewhere. The resident specifically asked that details not get shared on the internet so you’re just going to have to visit and find out for yourself. :)
After our steak dinner, we wandered around a bit more.
I met a guy in the saloon who was asking about the Little Guy as he also had a teardrop trailer that he and his son had used in one of the parks for their vacation.
Eventually we decided to go find a camping spot away from the crowd. We eventually landed at a dry wash about half mile or so out of town after turning down several spots.
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More photos from this leg of the trip.

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Desert Expedition III: Nevada – Post 4 – Kawich Range: Rachel, Bellehelen, Golden Bow, Silver Arrow, Tonopah

As we left Delamar, we said our good byes to Frenchie and headed towards pavement again, the circuituous route.
We headed along the powerline road where we saw new high line towers paralleling the old lines. The new towers had no wires though. A turnoff to the west took us into the dry lake bed where the soil (and its accompanying dust) turned nearly white. We came to a formation of rock that was nearly black (at least a few millimeters deep) which included petroglyphs.
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We eventually reached pavement at the Great Basin Highway and turned to head into Alamo. The gas station included a deli and really a complete grocery store so we stocked up fuel, aired up the tires, bought a few groceries, unloaded some trash and several of us had an ice cream treat before traveling on. It should be noted that they do not sell beer. We made another stop in Alamo to replenish that. We discussed heading down to a lakeside park for lunch but Martin had a better idea from a trip he’d made through the area some years back.
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Left to right, that’s Scott, Ace, Kyli, Keith, Gary, Michael, Martin and Sibastian in a photo taken by Laura.
We started down the Extraterrestrial Highway (NV 375) towards Rachel, NV. The top-secret Area 51 government base is near SR 375 and many travelers have reported UFO observations and other strange alien activity along this road. Such stories prompted the state to officially designate the route as the Extraterrestrial Highway in 1996. The small town of Rachel, located near the center of the highway, caters to tourists and UFO seekers with alien-themed businesses. Although the area receives some tourism due to alleged extraterrestrial activity, SR 375 remains a lightly traveled route. I have previously commented that we had no confirmed UFO or exraterrestrial sightings on our journey but I do have a scar (Scars are like tattoos with better stories!) on my temple where I supposedly walked into a tree in bright daylight for no apparent reason. Extraterrestrial abduction attempt gone bad? You be the judge.
When we got to Rachel, we stopped at the Little A’Le’ Inn for a look around and to grab lunch.
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Contiuig north along 375, we turned west through some BLM land towards Reveille area and the old Bellehelen mine site. Along with a newer (1940s?) abandoned wooden building, we found the remnants of older stacked stone structures and some smaller tailings piles.
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We also saw evidence of environmental monitoring in the area.
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The early mining methods used chemicals such as cyanide and others we know to be very dangerous (and long lasting) today and in our more enlightened state, we are taking the time to clean and monitor the contamination.
As it was getting on into the afternoon, we started looking for a place to set up camp for the night. We were aiming for something a bit better protected from the wind this night and found a flat spot on a hillside. Scott and Laura showed their culinary skills with Pizza and Brownies this night.
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In the hillside next to our campsite, we found this. Was it prepared as a home? A fallout shelter? Or just a way of protecting the mine?
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Up and off again the next morning at a leisurely pace befitting our vacation status.

This area shows generally on the maps as Reveille (or Old or New Reveille). We visited a couple of smaller mines that we didn’t discover the names for but we did see remnants of more of the stacked stone buildings and a bit of wildlife.
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The name Reveille refers to the Reveille Mill which we found at a crossroads along with an empty corral.
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Kyli enjoyed a cooling dip and playing with the koi.
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We found our next night’s lodgings down in the valley and among the greenery.
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Tonight was to be fajita night. Most of the fixings were supplied by Scott & Laura and Martin with the rest of us providing a little something. Thanks for some good eating!
Friday morning we were headed to an old ranch (Don’t remember the name but we thought we would find it empty.) As we approached we saw No Trespassing signs and signs of life so we turned around and headed in the direction of Golden Bow. To get there, we passed through (Bureau of Land Management (BLM) wild horse refuge and were not disappointed.
These two beauties stayed within sight and watched to make sure that all of us had the opportunity to take pictures and also that we left their area.
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I saw a ram’s head in this rock formation although someone else said they saw a bird.
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Although not as much left standing, there was more evidence of the town at Golden Bow.
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Much of this area was originally mined in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In the 1940s, much of the tailings piles were reprocessed with more efficient equipment and then again in the 1970s. Since that time, much of the work we see around has more to do with cleanup than mineral extraction.
Our next stop was Silver Arrow.
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Looking down a vertical mineshaft.
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Once again, we nosed around a bit and grabbed lunch. Silver Arrow is along the edge of restricted US Government space so we headed back out the way we had come in.
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We headed towards Tonopah with some thoughts of eating at a restaurant and restocking. We visited the Mining Museum and displays. Betty also happened to catch me on the truck phone in a rare moment when we had signals and I was in the truck. Tried to talk her through some computer problems but she managed to work it out after I dropped signal.
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We decided to find camp rather than hang around town for dinner and then go looking in the dark.
We found a good spot on national forest land.
Turns out the Little Guy had some issues with the too stiff suspension and the rough roads. Spent a while cleaning up the mess from that but slept well.

More photos from this leg of the trip.

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Desert Expedition III: Nevada – Post 3 – Helene Graveyard and Delamar NV

On Wednesday morning we headed in search of Delamar NV, a classic mining ghost town which saw its hey day in the 1890s. Gold was discovered there in 1889 and the original mines along with most of the major mines in the immediate area were purchased by Captain Joseph Raphael De Lamar for about $150,000. Some cursory research on the man shows he left his maritime interests and invested in mining claims. The one in Nevada paid off fairly well, producing over $13 million in gold.
Delamar at one time boasted a population of 1500 and amenities such as a hospital, an opera house and a central water system pumping water from a well some 12 miles away. Unfortunately, the gold in these hills was embedded in quartzite which lead to deadly silicosis when ground to dust as in the ore extraction process. One source said the population of Delamar included 400 widows at one point in time. The moniker “widow-maker” was apparently well-deserved. Remaining at Helene is a tailings pile from one excavation and a much-vandalized graveyard. Helene is on the way and just over the crest from Delamar.

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Gravestones are pretty much non-existent but the remaining decorative iron work is impressive in its detail and how well-preserved it remains.
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Moving on over the hill, we could see a lot more of the remains of the town and the mining and millng operations. It was obvious this had been a significant operation in its day.
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We decided we would spend the afternoon investigating further and stay in Delamar for the night.
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We found a clear level spot above the mill and along the roadway with enough room for all of us and we hoped some protection from the wind. It commanded a great view of the area.

During the night and early morning, I got quite ill. I’m not sure if it was the excitement, the altitude, something I ate or an allergy pill I’d decided to skip. Although my allergies are pretty mundane fare around home, I’ve discovered that I can be very allergic to rare flowering plants in Hawaiian volcanoes and possibly the Nevada desert. While I’ll spare the details, the morning found me worried about dehydration and seriously considering cancelling the remainder of the trip. As it turns out, I was somewhat weak the next day but after that one night, all seemed to be okay.
Frenchie, on the other hand, was not quite as lucky as he also got ill. He tied the symptoms to a medical issue he’d dealt with a month or so earlier and did leave the trip to visit medical pros to follow up. We heard from him later that he got home okay though. He was missed along the rest of the trip as he is quite an entertaining travel companion.

More photos from this leg of the trip.

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Desert Expedition III: Nevada – Post 2 – Cedar City UT to Rainbow Canyon NV

On Tuesday morning, we were all to meet at Smith’s Market in Cedar City with some time planned to meet and greet and then get on the road.
Timing can be a relative thing but we did all eventually show up and get ready.
Along for the ride were: Scott B and his navigator, Laura in the recently repowered white Ranger; Sib (Sibastian who also is Scott’s father) in his white Ranger; Gary (gwittman) in his red Ranger; Michael (mjmcdowell) in his gray Ranger; Frenchie (Frechiexj) in his white Jeep JK; Martin (martinjmpr) in his maroon 4Runner; Ace (Ace Brown) in his silver FJCruiser with Kyla the golden retriever and Keith (4x4x4doors) in the orange Colorado.
We left Cedar City on UT56 and went off pavement before we got into Nevada. We eventually got into Echo Canyon State Park and found a spot next to the reservoir for lunch.
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Our next waypoint was Caliente, the first ghost town of our journey. This is probably a good spot to define exactly what is a ghost town. Many of us think of a place that is totally abandoned and derelict but Merriam-Webster includes towns whose population has significantly declined from previous levels due to the collapse of an industry or resource such as when a mine is closed. Detroit, Michigan would fit the part of the definition that includes a significant decline in population without being completely and totally abandoned. Caliente, Nevada (and several of our other stops) fit that significant decline defintion. Caliente gained its name from the nearby hot springs. The Union-Pacific Railroad came to town in 1905 and the train station, built in 1923, is built in the style of Spanish missions. Today it houses a museum and the town’s municipal offices and a library.
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After passing through Calienete, we veered left into Rainbow Canyon and followed the stream and the railroad tracks for a ways.
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Climbing out of the canyon, CB radio traffic tells Michael that something doesn’t look right just as he discovers that he has a blowout.
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Replacing the tire turns into a group project with Scott providing his racing jack, Martin providing his four way lug wrench and various folks providing labor and advice. Ultimately, its clear the tire is toast and well-beyond repair and we’re back on our way.
We pass onto federally-owned and managed Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land. Different rules apply to passage and camping so ownership and management of the land is significant. We ride along a ridge road and see one other vehicle. Eventually we wind down into lower ground and start looking for a place to spend the night.
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This is range land and we happen upon some cattle and a stock tank and nearby clearing that had been used for camping before based on several fire rings in the clearing.
We set up camp for the night. Just before dark, we noticed four horses approaching with great interest. While they checked us out a bit, they decided to go on. Apparently our sheltered location was also used by the to bed down for the night.
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As we pulled out in the morning, the cattle followed for a while. One calf showed a particular interest in Martin’s 4Runner and ran after him for possibly a mile! There’s probably an off color joke that fits but I’ll refrain.
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More photos from this leg of the trip.

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