I belong to Angels Abreast, a breast cancer survivor dragon boat race team in Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada. Every four years the International Breast Cancer Paddlers Commission IBCPC) holds an international festival somewhere in the world. In the spring of 2013, my team received a notice that the IBCPC had chosen Sarasota, Florida, USA, to hold the next festival in October 2014.
We decided to attend and while the other members were going to fly down, tour around some of the sites and head home I wanted to see more of the country and meet some of the people. My husband, Mike, and I drove from our small acreage at Port Alberni, British Columbia, on the Pacific Ocean, to Sarasota, Florida on the Atlantic Ocean.
Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine the people I would meet nor the beautiful places I would see nor the adventures I would have on our ten week, 18,758km (11656 mile) journey. On the thirteenth day of every month in 2016 I will post a part of my trip that describes some of the excellent scenery, shows the generosity and friendliness of the people, and explains some of the history of the country. The people of the USA have much to be proud of.
After weeks of planning and preparing, we left our home on September 23, 2014, and over the next few days we drove through southern British Columbia into Alberta, where we crossed the border into Montana. The countryside was flat as we headed east to North Dakota and then south into South Dakota on Highway 85.
South of Redig we came to the junction with old Highway 85 that went west 7.8 miles (12.5km) to the Geographical Center of the Nation. This spot was picked by U.S. National Geodetic Survey when Alaska and Hawaii were added in 1959. Before that the centre of the nation was near the town of Lebanon, Kansas. The road is gravelled and the centre is on private property and not accessible.
As we headed to Deadwood we entered the Black Hills National Forest which got their name because the trees are so thick that from a distance they look black. They are a small mountain range with the highest summit being 7244 ft. (2208 m). The area has been called the last great El Dorado on the American continent.
The Black Hills were originally granted to the Lakota Indians in 1868. In 1874, Colonel George Armstrong Custer discovered gold near the present day town of Custer and that triggered the Black Hills Gold Rush. Deadwood, named for the dead trees that were found in the town’s gulch, was quickly established and soon boasted a population of 5000. Lawlessness prevailed and some claim the town was founded on gold, gambling, and guns.
We drove through the beautiful ponderosa pine trees and the red rock hillsides into the historic town. We stopped at the tourist information center in the Days of ’76 Museum, then went downstairs to see the rows of carriages, stagecoaches, and wagons. I sat in a stagecoach and we saw black and white hearses and a Brewery’s wagon. From there we found a casino and spent an hour at the machines, leaving with less money than when we entered.
One of the most famous people to live in Deadwood was gambler, and sometimes lawman, Wild Bill Hickok. He was playing poker in Nuttal & Mann's saloon in town on August 2, 1876 when another gambler, Jack McCall, shot him in the back of the head. The hand that he held, aces and eights, is now known as the Dead Man's Hand.
At Mount Rushmore National Monument our first sight of the monument was from the entrance and many people stopped just inside the doors to stare at the faces in the distance. We followed a very wide marble walkway to the Borglum Court. We went under an arch and were on the Avenue of Flags, where a flag from each state and territory flies. At the end of the walkway is the Grand View Terrace, a very wide lookout where we had a great view of the monument.
Mike went back to the motorhome while I took the Presidential Walk. The walk is slightly more than half a mile and the first part is a flat path. I went past an Indian Village which was closed then reached a cave made by two huge boulders leaning against each other. I entered the cave and looked up through a crack between the boulders to see Washington’s face. George Washington was the first president of the United States and served from 1789 to 1797.
I strolled on the wooden walkway to the viewpoints where I took pictures of each face and saw them from different angles. Thomas Jefferson, beside Washington, was the third president of the United States. His term was from 1801 to 1809.
Roosevelt, next to Jefferson, was wearing his glasses. He served as the twenty-sixth president from 1901 to 1909. He was vice-president to President William McKinley and when McKinley was assassinated Roosevelt became president.
Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth president, is the fourth face on the sculpture. He was president during the civil war and was assassinated in 1865, nine days after Robert E. Lee, the Confederate commanding officer, surrendered.
The presidential faces on Mount Rushmore were carved by sculptor Gutzon Borglum, with the help of over 400 workers, between 1927 and 1941. The monument is 60ft (18m) high and represents the first 130 years of the country's history. Three million people visit each year.
As we left the parking lot we looked out over a lovely valley where we could see, as Mike put it, ‘into next week’. We drove through Hill City and eventually came to a set of traffic lights on the highway. We turned onto Avenue of the Chiefs to get to the Crazy Horse Monument.
Crazy Horse, literally meaning ‘His Horse Is Crazy’, was a war leader for the Oglala Lakota. He fought against the white man’s encroachments into native land and led a war party at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876. He eventually surrendered to U.S. troops but four months later he was killed by a military guard.
I watched a 20 minute Dynamite and Dreams film about the monument and Korczak Ziolkowski, the self-taught sculptor who was approached by Lakota chief Henry Standing Bear to sculpt Crazy Horse, ‘one of the red man’s great heroes’, in the Black Hills. The film showed some of the early work he had done alone and had an interview with him before he passed away in 1982. There was also an interview of his wife who died in 2014. They had 10 children and some of them are still working on the project, which is being funded solely by money raised from the tourists who visit.
The first blast took place on the Crazy Horse monument on June 3, 1948. Since then the head and face have been completed and work is now being done on the hand and arm. When finished, the rider and horse will be 641ft (195m) long and 563ft (172m) high, and the largest mountain carving in the world. It is so much bigger than Mount Rushmore that the presidential faces would actually fit in the head of Crazy Horse. I wandered through the large log building that holds a gift shop, the Indian Museum of North America, the Native American Cultural Center, an information center, and displays. There is a 1/34th scale model that shows what the monument will look like when completed.
“We need to get the front brakes done as soon as possible,” Mike said as we crossed the border into Colorado. We’d bought the used motorhome for the trip and had been assured the brakes were fine.
We stopped at a KOA campsite in Limon. Mike asked the woman behind the counter where we could get our brakes done. She gave us a map of the town and showed us where NAPA was. It opened at 8:00am in the morning and she circled their phone number. Mike was surprised because in Canada NAPA only sells auto parts. In the United States they also do vehicle repairs.
In the morning Mike phoned the NAPA dealer to see if we could make an appointment to have our brakes installed. He was told that it was first come, first served. We looked at the map and saw it wasn’t very far from the KOA to the NAPA so I decided to stay and shower. I would walk over once finished.
I got into the shower and turned handle. Nothing happened. The first thought that entered my mind was that I needed to pay for it so rather than check further I quickly dressed hoping to catch Mike. He was gone. I went to the office.
“Morning,” the woman said.
“Hi,” I said. “I have a tale of woe to tell you.”
“Go right ahead.”
“My husband has left to get the brakes on our motorhome changed at NAPA and I hadn’t got any…”
“Don’t worry,” she cut in. “I’ll give you a ride over.”
On the way we chatted. She told me she had been in Limon about ten years. She liked the town and enjoyed owning the KOA. Many of the people who camped there were regular customers who stopped in on their way south for the winter and on their way home in the spring.
Mike was sitting in the motorhome in the NAPA dealer’s yard. He dug out his change purse and gave me all his quarters. I jumped back in the car and held up my handful of change.
“I don’t know how much it costs for the shower but I’ve got all the quarters my husband had. I hope they are enough.”
“It doesn’t cost extra to shower,” she said.
“But I turned the handle and no water came out.”
“Just pull on the handle to start the water.”
Talk about feeling dumb.
Back at the KOA the woman offered me another ride when I was finished. After my shower and ride back I asked her to wait a bit. I am a writer and had brought some of my mystery novels with me. I gave her a set as a thank you for her kindness.
The man who changed our brakes was very friendly. He and Mike chatted the whole time. Apparently he had spent time in the Navy and had been to Nanaimo, B.C. so he knew where we were from. We left Limon about noon, happy to have our brakes done.
We passed through Canon City and soon entered the Royal Gorge National Park. It was a narrow, winding climb to the parking area for the Gorge Bridge. We walked out on the wooden decking of the highest bridge in the United States. I have a fear of heights but I looked over the side at the Arkansas River, and the railway tracks running beside it, 1053ft (321m) below. Mike went to the motorhome while I walked to the far end and back.
American explorers first saw the Arkansas River canyon in 1806. The railway was built in the late 1800s and the suspension bridge was constructed in 1929. The bridge is 18ft (5.50m) wide and 1260ft (384m) length and has 1292 planks.
After seeing the Arkansas River Mike, and I headed to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Monument. We stopped on the south rim where the interpretive center is located. I went in and looked through the center then we began our drive along the rim. There are eleven viewpoints, some of them close to the road, some a bit of a walk like the Devil’s Overlook where I walked 600 yards from the parking area. There is one that is wheelchair accessible. We stopped at other viewpoints to look down at the river at the bottom of the canyon and to take pictures.
It took over two million years of water and climate erosion for the canyon to become what we saw. Although the Indians, two Spanish expeditions, and fur trappers all knew about it, the first record of it was made in 1853 by Captain John Gunnison, leader of a survey expedition. It was named the Black Canyon because little sunlight penetrates the high, sheer walls. Some places only get 33 minutes of direct sunlight a day. In 1999, 14 miles (22km) of the 48 mile (77km) canyon were made into a national park. During its run through the park, the Gunnison River drops an average of 95ft (29m) per mile and in one two mile stretch it drops 249ft (76m). The canyon is only 40ft (12m) wide at its narrowest.