THE LONG ROAD HOME
Kansas, Nebraska, Dakotas, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia
April 24, 2007
In Brownsville we got caught up on the housekeeping –
serious trailer clean-up, laundry, internet – preparing for the
long road home.
Next morning we set out for San Antonio, home of the Alamo.
It took all day to get there but it’s a pleasant drive. The sides
of the road are literally blanketed in wildflowers - orange and brown
gaillardias, white calliopes, pink masses, and blue masses, fat purple
thistles, white Queen Anne’s lace.
Texas is Lady Bird Johnson’s home state. I recollect
that beautifying American highways with indigenous wildflowers was one
of her causes so I am thinking these flowers must be a legacy of those
efforts. Too many cowboy movies I guess, but I had assumed Texas was all
burnt out scrubland. Not so at all. Lots of green foliage, rolling hills,
lazy rivers and of course, those wildflowers.
San Antonio we landed at the Travelers RV Park on Roosevelt. This was
a serendipitous but lucky choice because it is very close to town and
the city bus stops directly in front of the door.
First, the Alamo. I knew nothing about it before coming,
but Steve was keen, raised as he was on Davy Crockett movies. The short
version is this: Texas belonged to Mexico who encouraged colonization
by Europeans and farmers from the American states because they were tired
of skirmishing with the Comanche and saw the settlers as providing a buffer
between Mexico and the Indians. They enticed the settlers to Texas with
extremely lucrative land offers and promises of non-interference and full
rights as Mexican citizens.
Only trouble was that the colonization went too well and
Santa Ana, the dictator of Mexico
became concerned that the rapidly increasing numbers of settlers were
going to overwhelm his ability to hold the territory. So he clamped down
on colonization and started removing the rights he’d guaranteed
them. And oh yes, charging taxes.
This infuriated the settlers. They’d left homes in
Europe and/or the eastern states for exactly these reasons – curtailment
of rights and unjust taxation. The settlers rebelled. Santa Ana sent a
series of armies to straighten the settlers out. The first, led by Santa
Ana’s brother-in-law was thoroughly routed.
humiliation was not to be tolerated so Santa Ana himself led a troop of
6,000 men north and took on the settlers at the Alamo, a mission/fort
in what is now known as San Antonio. Less than 200 men held off the Mexican
army for three days but were overcome, with all men slaughtered on the
third day. Davy Crocket actually survived the assault itself but was shot
Texans took inspiration from the slaughter, rallied an army
and trounced Santa Ana once and for all. The phrase, “Remember
the Alamo,” is a sacred rallying cry, even to this day. The
place is literally a shrine.
San Antonio is a pretty city, at least the parts they’ve
tarted up around the Alamo. There
is a River Walk which is nice ...although the river itself could use some
cleaning up. Restaurants line the River Walk with outdoor bars and tables.
“Texas Barbeque” has always been held up as
the gold standard, so of course, we had to go. Locals recommended The
County Line. Disappointingly ordinary. In fact, Earls at home does a whole
lot better job of ribs if you ask me.
We lucked into Fiesta Week so everyone was cutting loose
down at Market Square. There were four bands rocking out in different
locations – each geared to different styles
of music. Dozens and dozens of food vendors – the most disgusting
of which was cooking up pots of tripe which they call “tripa”,
pronouncing treepa. They wrap it in tortillas, cover it in hot sauce and
declare it amazingly good. Don’t think so.
Everyone is wearing Mardi Gras style beads and fripperies
and hats. Fun to see women kicking up their heels to the bands –
dancing happily together. No worries about having partners or being old
or looking the fool. Loved it.
Come evening we were putting our awning up when a man came
over and warned us that there was a tornado watch. “You’ll
regret leaving that awning up!”
Sure enough, sometime around midnight we were awakened by
a terrible wind rocking our tiny trailer. Lightning was literally strobing,
thunder roaring through like a never-ending freight train, rain lashing
us from all angles.
The next morning people told us they’d sat up all
night with their clothes on, convinced they would need to evacuate. I
guess we were naive – popped in the earplugs, pulled the blankets
over our heads and settled back to sleep.
But it was serious. About 75 miles to the west a trailer
park was hit by a tornado and several people were killed. Everywhere around
us the roads and paths were awash in water.
April 26, 2007
Next morning, after checking out all the other missions
in San Antonio – and there are lots – we headed for Austin
and checked into the Pecan Grove RV Park. This could have
been an idyllic setting, just south of the city. The park is massed in
huge, ancient old oak trees but they were already full up so could only
stick us in an overflow site that featured the four-lane road on one side
and the al fresco dining room of a noisy restaurant on the other.
I imagined we were never going to get to sleep, but in fact,
we both slept amazingly well.
We were in town to take care of some business and do some
shopping. Interesting thing we’ve been noticing here in Texas. The
mega malls are all closing down. Those that are still open have so many
empty shops. I guess people are shopping at the free-standing big box
stores now. Which I can understand. I paid $20 each for two pairs of excellent
quality capris at Target. Why would I pay more at a fancy ladies shop
in the mall?
Austin is the capital of Texas and, from what we saw of
it, a really lovely looking town with lots of green leafy parks and suburbs
and some amazing architecture in the middle of town.
April 27, 2007
In the morning we headed out initially on Hwy 71 so that
we could connect with the “green” scenic route of 281 north.
It was a lovely drive through green rolling hills, more wildflowers, lots
of small farming towns. Some looking prosperous and spruced up ...others
dried up and weary.
Stopped for lunch at a local institution, the Koffee Kup
Kaffee. People were actually lined
up to get into this cafe in a hoakey little old house. Everything was
old and patched together including lots of the locals with too much makeup
and helmet hair. On the other hand, there were also lots of bubbas in
cowboy boots with ripped muscles on tanned arms in jean jackets with the
sleeves ripped off. Lots to look at.
Nice people though, Texans. Friendly, warm and helpful.
Steve had a clubhouse, I had a BLT. We shared a plate of
onion rings, the house specialty. The rings were bland and rubbery, a
big disappointment. But the other specialty – cocoanut cream pie,
was just fine.
Carried on to Witchita Falls for night. Tomorrow we’ll
make it through Oklahoma and into Kansas.
April 28, 2007
Headed out of Witchita Falls on Hwy 44 to just north of
Lawton where we turned west on the 49. This took us through the Witchita
Mountains National Wildlife Refuge. This is a wonderful drive over rolling
hills past thousands of oak trees, masses of big rocks tumbled over each
other. Beautiful country. In the midst of it all, roaming bands
of buffalo and long horn cattle. Magnificent with their massive shoulders
and towering strength. At one place they were very near the road so we
stopped to take photos. We stayed in the truck but even so, this humongous
guy was staring us down, his mates gathering behind him, rumbling.
Yup, we were intimidated alright. The damage they could
do to the truck and trailer would be devastating, never mind what they
could do to us. We moved on.
enjoyed watching the Black-tailed Prairie Dogs. They are of the squirrel
family - cute little fellows, ducking in and out of their holes.
The Wildlife Refuge was the highlight of the day for sure
because after that we passed through small town after small town that
was either literally boarded up and abandoned or simply closed for the
day. And this was a Saturday afternoon when you would think small town
merchants would be open and busy.
We noticed the same thing in small town Australia last year.
Too often the small towns were simply deserted, the trade having presumably
driven off to larger towns.
Dinner time found us in the area of Woodward, OK so we pulled
into Boiling Springs State Park. It is lovely and cool and quiet here.
Lots of twisted old oak trees in a natural rural setting. Even so, we
have electricity and water. Very nice.
Tomorrow we will be in Kansas, although Steve is lining
up lots of things for us to do in Dodge City so I am sure we won’t
make it through in one day.
April 29, 2007
Arrived in Dodge City about noon. Walked over to the Boot
Hill Museum, $6.50 for seniors, $7 for adults. The museum is located on
the original Boot Hill cemetary and “Front Street.”
Most of the bodies were removed to a city cemetery years
and years ago, but they expect that there are still some under the ground
here because grave markers were few and far between for these dead. People
with family or the means to pay for it were buried in the church cemetery.
But anyone who was killed in a bar fight or had no one to look out for
them would be dumped in a hole here ...with their boots on.
It is an interesting museum with a 13 minute movie, lots
of memorabilia and artefacts.
There is lots of information about longhorns and buffalo and the pioneers
of the area. Rooms full of dresses and men’s clothing and children’s
stuff, household implements and tools and so on.
I found the story about the buffalo most interesting. First,
it is called an American Buffalo or Bison. The male grows up to one ton
and has horns with a spread of up to three feet. The cows are 900-1100
pounds. Calves are 65 pounds at birth and can be up and running with the
herd at one hour of age.
In the 1800s they believed there were up to 70 million.
They were the lifeblood of the Indians who had already begun taking offence
at the white men’s incursions into their territories. So the governor
decided that if there were no buffalo in the area the Indians would leave.
He advertised open hunting in eastern papers and thousands of hunters
came out, shooting over 100 buffalo in a day, basically exterminating
the buffalo in just a few years. By 1880 there were believed to be only
1000 buffalo left. Brilliant.
other species that defines this region are the Long Horn Cattle. These
are believed to have been introduced to the area by Spanish conquistadors
exploring Texas who basically brought along their own “beef on the
They are prolific breeders and with no help from man, multiplied
through the late 1800s. By 1890 the US Department of Agriculture estimated
there were 60 million Longhorn Cattle. They are magnificent to see, with
the longest, most elegant horns you’ve ever seen.
They are a tough animal, needing little water and thriving
on whatever scrub grass they find on the prairie. Unfortunately they carried
a disease called Texas Fever. While they are immune to it, other cattle
are not. By the 1920s the Longhorn had been virtually bred out of existence.That’s
why there are now wildlife refuges to protect the longhorn cattle and
the American buffalo/bison.
The Dodge City museum has also recreated Front Street, a
living museum that is fashioned after the original Front Street with a
general store, a saloon, apothecary, undertaker, bank, etc. There are
actors in some of them, welcoming you to Dodge.
A couple of other trivia facts to tuck away: the Masterson
family, i.e., Bat and Brett Masterson, former sheriffs of Dodge were actually
Quebecers, their family having moved
to Kansas when they were boys. And lastly, that Wyatt Earp was never a
full sheriff, only a deputy.
Left Dodge in the afternoon and carried on to Lake Scott
State Park where we are ensconced for the night. Lovely peaceful lake.
Very quiet, nice breeze. The people at Dodge told us that a week ago there
was 10 inches of snow. Apparently it melted by morning, but a huge shock
to everyone. Glad it was “last week.” Tonight it is lovely
April 30, 2007
Saw the Monumental Rocks which are pretty interesting, out
in the middle of a farmer’s field.
Looking for a cup of coffee, we saw a steak house that advertised
coffee and breakfast. It was 10:00 in the morning. As we sat there nursing
our coffee, couldn't help noticing the staff filling up the buffet with
beef stew, fried chicken and so on. I thought they must be nuts. But in
minutes the place started filling up and there were hordes of people filling
up plates with mashed pots and gravy, corn on the cob and steak ...at
10 am. Still can’t figure that one out.
Came to Chimney Rock and Scott’s Bluff in Nebraska.
This is the landmark that signalled the end of the settler's 4-6 week
trek through the Plains. From here they started heading through the foothills.
We drove to the top of Scott’s Bluff. It has amazing
vistas of the Platte River Valley and the area the settlers would have
come through. Steve got the bright idea to descend via the walking trail
so I took the truck back down and waited for him. There is a visitors
centre at the foot with lots of pioneer artefacts. After reading about
that for a while I went outside and walked up to Mitchell’s Pass.
I just stood there, letting the quiet of the prairie sink into me.
the quiet, I experienced the presence of the women who had passed over
this exact spot. First it was their shuffling footsteps, then the murmur
of their voices. I felt the weariness in their limbs as they walked, one
foot in front of the other, but also the hope they had for a better life.
They’d made it this far - across the prairies with its unrelentingly
harsh sun and scant water. There was hope again ...with the trees and
the greenness and the rolling hills. They WOULD make it to a new life.
Pondered quite a bit on the motivations of people who would
leave all that they knew and risk all that they had for a new life and
realized that it is no different than the Mexicans we met who would do
the same – such was the impoverishment and hopelessness of their
lot in Mexico.
Continued north to Rapid City, South Dakota. This has been
another eye opener. South Dakota is so beautiful. Nebraska was too ...lush
rolling landscapes. Tons of cattle everywhere. But here in South Dakota
all that rolling green hill stuff jst
takes it up another notch or two.
Camping at the KOA here. Arrive Tuesday afternoon and go
for a drive through the Badlands National Park. This takes about four
hours. When you first start through it is fairly flat . Suddenly the scenery
does a fast forward and you find yourself traveling up through and on
top of spectacular sandstone escarpments that are striated with
different shades of white, grey, tan, brown, orange, and green/blue. That
last green/blue layer is the decayed jungle that once stood here.
The Badlands is also where all the criminals used to hide
out from the law – the landscape, after all, where all the true
stories behind the wild west were actually lived out. You can easily imagine
them hiding out in these canyons and gullies, never to be found.
Tomorrow morning we set off for Mount Rushmore.
May 2, 2007
First stop is Bear Country, USA. This is a privately owned
wildlife park with 200+ bears.
I was imagining it as some kind of bear rehab refuge but apparently not.
Since returning home I looked into it and Bear Country “owns”
these bears, most of them born in the park. Each spring the new cubs are
removed from their mothers and hand raised so that they will be “human-printed”
and easy to manage. There are WAY too many bears for the enclosures we
Some animal rights group needs to get on top of this place
because while the bears did not seem to be overtly mistreated, having
dozens and dozens of bears pacing around inside of relatively small fenced
areas (for their numbers) is just lunacy. Sorry I gave these guys my $13
There were also all kinds of mountain sheep and goats, reindeers,
elk, mountain lions, Arctic wolves and regular wolves, coyotes, a couple
grizzly bears. The gift shop was hopeless, nothing but the tackiest crap
I’ve ever seen.
on to Mount Rushmore, also known as America’s “Shrine to Democracy.”
The faces were carved by a fellow called Gutzon Borglum and 400 workers
over 14 years, from 1927 to 1941. Work on the sculptures was halted when
Congress refused to advance any more funds for the work.
The area is a National Park with an attractive pavilion
and terrace for viewing the sculptures. They also have a great cafeteria
– had a very nice pot roast lunch for $8.50.
Carried on to the Crazy Horse Memorial. Now this is even
more amazing. This fellow,
Korczak Ziolkowski worked on sculpting this mountain all by himself. He
started in 1948, dragging hand drilling and blasting equipment up and
down the mountain by hand.
The story is that Ziolkowski was working with Gutzon Borglum
on Mount Rushmore. Lakota Cheif Henry Standing Bear asked him to help
them create their own memorial because the “red men have great
Mr. Ziolkowski died in 1982. His family have carried on
since. The face of the Crazy Horse Memorial was only completed in 1998.
The sculptor never saw it but must have had one helluva an imagination.
It’s an unbelievable story of commitment and determination and sheer
work is ongoing and truly amazing. Go to the website, www.crazyhorse.com
for more info.
Carried on to Deadwood ...a complete waste of time. Just
a small town that has taken to gambling in a big way. .
May 3, 2007
The drive today was a hard one because there were terrible
winds over North Dakota. On the radio they said up to 100 mph. I’m
sure it wasn’t that bad always, but there were certainly extremely
patches when it was hard to control the rig because the wind was hitting
us broadside. Other times it was pushing us from behind and that felt
At one stop I went into the trailer and the wind ripped
the door right out of my hands, smashing it against the side of the trailer
and throwing its alignment out of whack.
When we arrived at the border and had to open the trailer for the border
guard, it wouldn’t budge. Steve had to crank it open with a crowbar.
North Dakota is a matter of gently rolling grasslands. The only deviation
from that is at Roosevelt National Park where “Badlands” prevail,
those eroded sandstone escarpments that were so captivating in South Dakota.
We saw a lot of deer today, probably well over a hundred.
They are very easy to spot with their white bottoms flashing in the sun.
They run with the wind and jump like gazelles. Just beautiful to watch.
evening we’d made it all the way to the Saskatchewan border. We
are spending the night in the Ourangie Memorial Park. It is a bit strange.
There are about 30 big house trailers and 5th wheels parked here. Some
look like they are being stored, but most look like they are people’s
homes with barbeques and bikes and lawn chairs sitting on decks and in
the small gardens that permanent residents of trailer parks create. But
there is no one here. Not a single vehicle or person except us and all
these empty RVs. As if all the oldies who actually live here have been
spirited away by a UFO or something.
No one ever came and collected money from us. There is a
restroom but it is locked up and the water was turned
off. So Steve jimmied the door lock then followed the water line over
to the shut-off valve and turned it back on. We turned it off and locked
up again in the morning. Most strange though and the spookiness of it
all was enhanced by the terrible winds that continue to follow us over
We’ve made it back home to Canada. Tomorrow will find
us in BC and the next
day, parked in our own driveway.
|Unless otherwise noted all
prices are quoted in US$ or Mexican Pesos. At time of writing, 10
pesos = $1 US or CDN.