South Dakota, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan… phew.

We overnighted in Yankton, South Dakota, close to the bottom left corner of that state. The troops had a good night’s sleep and were up and packed for an early start. This was going to be our longest drive yet since we decided not to stop again before getting to our friend Amy’s house, near Chicago. We planned to drive into the night, as long as it took, and we had an E.T.A of around midnight.

On arriving in Iowa, we noticed that large areas of Sioux City were underwater due to flooding of the Missouri River. There are dams upstream which the Army Corps of Engineers say they were forced to spill water from, due to unprecedented snow and rain. Sioux City and Dakota Dunes as well as other areas downstream have apparently been underwater for a couple of months.

Sioux City was a blip on the radar as we rumbled along. Our RV seems to be in great shape and the engine purrs as we break free from the city and the interstate freeway, and out onto smaller country roads through seemingly endless corn fields. The US produces over 332 million metric tons of corn a year – that’s more than any other country in the world, and more than twice as much as China, the next largest grower. 40% of all that corn is used to make corn ethanol, used as a fuel additive. If we ever saw a farm not growing corn, it was usually soy beans.

Charles Kuralt once said:

Thanks to the Interstate Highway System, it is now possible to travel across the country from coast to coast without seeing anything.

We chose our route through Iowa because it looked to be a backroad, however many sections of Route 20 were actually freeway-like conditions. We have found that you don’t loose much time by traveling off the interstates, and the backroads are much more interesting. The interstates are cluttered with billboards, trucks, cars, RVs, and bad food options. On the backroads we see more of the real America, more local people, less tourists, and more interesting sights. So as much as possible that will be our M.O, although there will always be some times when we need to revert to the interstates for some reason.

Iowa farmalnd scenery was great, but it didn’t seem to change much, and it took a long time to cross the state. At the Illinois border, we crossed over the Mississippi River. The scenery seemed to become more varied. We were amazed at the number of motor cycle riders in Wyoming, South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois that ride with no helmet. This is common in many states, but we are not used to it. I don’t think I would have the guts to do that even though it probably feels a lot freer.

Near Rockford Illinois we found a cute historic town called Cherry Valley, where we had dinner in a local diner. We got the kids into their PJ’s and lowered the shades, hit I-90 for the long drive into the night. The kids soon fell asleep, as we negotiated the many tolls, cramped freeways, and sketchy drivers in greater Chicago. After 620 miles and over 11 hours of actual driving time not including meal breaks, it was a long day just as expected, we had been in five states today:
– South Dakota
– Iowa
– Illinois
– Indiana
– Michigan

We finally arrived after midnight at Amy’s lake house in a little village called Union Pier, Michigan, on the shore of Lake Michigan. But more on that later. Here are some pictures from today:

Our actual route for today

Flooding at Sioux City

Some of our bug collection in the radiator. There are more all over the front of the vehicle.

Corn.

Windmills in the corn fields

A typical Iowa farm view

Flowers by the roadside, I think this is known as a yellow cone flower, a native wildflower.

The RV at our roadside lunch spot.

One of the backroads we followed

A day in South Dakota

We woke up in the tiny remote mining town of Wright, Wyoming. Not much going on there, but it was a nice enough stop.

Just near Wright on the map, you might notice “Thunder Basin National Grassland”. On the map, it looks like a National Park, right? Wrong! Just for the record, this is really just a euphemism for one of the largest open-cut coal mining operations in America, along with some small scale oil wells to boot. However, let’s not detract too much from Wyoming’s in-your-face raw natural beauty. While they are trying their hardest to mine and squeeze every dollar out of this state, the natural beauty still abounds.

We headed up into the Black Hills, and over the mountains down into Rapid City, South Dakota. Our GPS directed us to a health food co-op where we stocked up on fresh foods for the next leg.

If Wyoming is rugged and beautiful, then South Dakota might be described as developed (farming) and gently undulating (lots more faming), with farms in all directions.

With all these crops and grass lands, there comes a lot of bugs of all descriptions. I mean a LOT. When we stop for gas, we peel back layers of bugs from the front of the vehicle (mostly dead) and it’s interesting to see the different species. Today I found a live grasshopper on top of the cab, and it was obviously annoyed that I was poking it to see if it was alive, and promptly jumped away. It looked like it had been there a long time, just hanging out and enjoying the ride.

The kids are being very patient – as patient as they could be for their ages. We are putting in some long driving days right now, with the intention of taking a bit of a break near Chicago where we’ll meet up with our friend Amy. Lots of excitement from all quarters on that plan.

Route map for today

Are we ready to go? – VIDEO

Mmmmm…. smoothies all around.

Photos from today:

Hate your job? There’s a group for that.

The Black Hills

Goodbye Wyoming, Hello South Dakota

Corn

Hay

Roadwork

Scenery

Silos – not sure what was in them, but they looked worth a photo.

Sun setting on South Dakota

As the sun sets on South Dakota, so too does our visit. Tomorrow we visit a new state. What is the state immediately to the east of South Dakota? If you don’t know, check back tomorrow for the answer.

Wyoming

According to Google Maps, today’s route was 379 Miles, and it should have taken us 7 hours and 12 minutes. We took our time though, with a nice stop for lunch by a river, and dinner at a park in the city of Casper. Our time was 11 hours. We were almost always on backroads today, more spectacular scenery, starting with a close up view of the Grand Tetons. The goal was to push eastward as fas as possible, and we ended up in a tiny town called Wright, Wyoming. Staying here at the local RV park, which is nothing to write home about, but serves the purpose. We would have just found a roadside spot if there were any, but this is not that kind of place, so we took the in-town option.

Route map for today

Jackson, Wyoming – Antler arch made from real elk antlers.

Grand Tetons

Grand Tetons

Grand Tetons

Grand Tetons

Grand Tetons

Are we there yet? – VIDEO

Roadside lunch by a river

Our lunch breaks have been amazing, so far

Always do a safety check before you leave – VIDEO.

Not the best overnight location we’ve had, but it works

Tomorrow we are heading up through the Black Hills National Forest, and onto I-90, the main East-West freeway on the northern route that takes us over to Chicago. After all the backroads, we’re not looking forward to the interstate freeways, but the choices become more slim in the Midwest. We’ll see what we can do.

Our own private Idaho

Day 3: Wednesday July 27th, 2011

Had a fantastic night visiting Mark and Tara, followed by a hearty home made breakfast. It was an incredible, beautiful morning as we pulled out of Boise at 11:30am. Followed I-84 for a short time before taking backroads all the way (hence our own private Idaho) to Wilson, Wyoming, which is just next to Jackson Hole. Stunning scenery all day today and it just got better and better all the way. Early in the day we passed the Craters Of The Moon national park, which is a large area of lava flows that make a stark landscape. Here’s the route we took today:

Update: Here are some photos, finally uploaded from the camera.

Our hosts in Boise, Mark and Tara, check out the RV

Mark and Tara’s place

Roadside lunch with a view

Climbing into the foothills on the way to Wyoming

The road to Jackson, Wyoming. We took the less travelled route.

Goodbye Idaho, hello Wyoming

Reno to Boise

Day 2: July 26th
Arrived in Boise, ID. Late start again and a long day (8 hours) driving. We figured out we are making 6 miles per gallon, not great. Kids survived the long day and were glad to get to Boise. Great to arrive in the welcoming home of our friends Mark and Tara.

Reno downtown through a bug-splattered windshield.

Salt lake in remote Nevada.

Riley

Talia

Milo

Typical Nevada driving after leaving Reno

Clouds in south west Oregon

Lunch in Winnemucca, Nevada – VIDEO

Goodbye Nevada, Hello Oregon

Road trip underway

Day 1: July 25th
Departed Redwood City on the scheduled day, although very late. We actually began the day in Santa Cruz, went to the Bay Area to tidy up a few loose ends and by 3pm we headed out of town on the most direct route to Reno, where we stayed with our friend Cathy.

Update: 27 July. Here’s one extra photo from this leg.

Breakfast at Cathy & Jim’s home.