On The Road Again

Gerri, Phil, Kevin, Kathryn at Mount Rushmore.

Wow!  It’s been a crazy couple of weeks.  The last time I wrote a post for the road trip I was in a totally different place both mentally and physically.  Then life happened.  But, it’s time to catch you guys up on the adventure…  Get ready for a long post! Okay, so we left off when we stopped in Mobile, AL.  Man, what a trip that was.  I’ve never been to the deep south.  I get the feeling that they are kind of in their own little world which is kind of nice in a way.  We were headed to New Orleans that day (Wednesday May 7th) and were excited to get there so we didn’t spend a whole lot of time dilly dallying around in Alabama or Mississippi.  I did want to stop to see a giant chicken car though.  Parked out front of a rural gas station in a neighborhood made up of trailers and junk yards (upon reflection they may have just been normal yards…) there was an El Camino that had been bred with a giant rooster.  The resulting love child is pictured above.  After that we headed straight for NOLA only stopping for a pic at the Mississippi state line and a quick bite to eat in a quaint eatery called Old Cuevas Bistro off the beaten path in the town of Pass Christian, MS.  We had our first taste of authentic southern gumbo and it was delicious!  From there it was on to NOLA and a fantastic welcome and check in experience at the Harrah’s hotel there.  The people were so friendly and willing to help with anything you wanted.  We dropped our stuff in our opulent suite and went for a quick run down the Mississippi and through the French Quarter.  The night brought an array of excitement and new experiences with food and drink.  It started with a stop at the Harrah’s Casino.  If you know me, you know I love to play roulette.  Plus if we played for 30 minutes our overnight parking was FREE!  Can’t beat that.  I played for about an hour and came out $60 up, plus saved the $35 for parking.  Score!  Next we tried crawfish boudin and French 75’s made with cognac at Luke.  Then we walked Bourbon Street in search of more libations.  Gerri heard that Frenchman Street was the place to go for music so we grabbed a cab and headed there.  The Spotted Cat Music Club was our first stop.  The music was great and the drinks were cheap.  When the band was finished we walked down the street and enjoyed a full brass band and drum line playing on the corner.  I just remember having this feeling all over the city that New Orleans had a soul.  The city itself has an energy unlike any other I’ve been to in the world.  It’s really pretty amazing to experience.

The next morning we planned out our binge eating and set out to find brunch and bloody’s.  New Orleans has so much good food I seriously think I could go there on vacation for a month just to eat!  We got a tip that Erin Rose had the best bloody mary’s around.  Well, I’m not ready to crown them king just yet but I will say they were the cheapest bloody’s I’ve ever had at like $4 each!  That scores them some major points, plus the atmosphere was awesome.  We were there with a couple locals, a dog, and some liquor reps giving samples to the bartender surrounded by decades of memorabilia splattered on the walls.  The bartender pointed us to a great breakfast spot and we prepared for the impending pile of food by walking there.  The Old Coffeepot didn’t disappoint.  Big portions of things I’ve never heard of.  Cheddar grits and french toast made with po-boy bread.  Also something called Callas Cakes that were like breakfast hush puppies filled with rice and pecans.  So good!  Oh, one other thing I just remembered, the staff is awesome!  These older ladies that could be my grandma and they weren’t takin’ any sass from anyone.  Our server shot both Gerri and I one of those dirty looks that instantly made me feel like I had to explain myself for both of us being on our phones while at breakfast together.  From breakfast we went on to Jackson Square and then took the oldest trolly car system in the country to visit City Park.  City Park is a little bit like Central Park in Manhattan.  It’s big and open and there are some sculpture parks as well as the NOMA (New Orleans Museum of Art).  It was a great stop and gave us a chance to walk off some of the calories from breakfast that were stickin’ to our ribs.  Although we were still stuffed it was lunchtime and we still needed to try a po-boy before leaving NOLA.  So off to Mother’s we went.  Mother’s Restaurant has been there since 1938 and according to our friend has the best po-boy in NOLA.  This is a hotly contested title and there are no shortage of places claiming they are the best.  It’s a little bit like claiming you have the best Juicy Lucy in Minneapolis or the best pizza in New York.  Everyone has an opinion.  I can’t speak intelligently to the subject as I’ve only tried one po-boy but I will say that the fried oyster and shrimp po-boy we had was damn good!  I really wasn’t hungry and didn’t think I could even take more than a bite but after the first bite my tastebuds overruled my full stomach.  We decided to walk to Magazine Street in search of some shopping.  While walking I got the call that my mom had passed away and our trip took an unexpected turn.  The rest of the day is a bit of a blur.  My mind was elsewhere.

The morning of May 9th we left NOLA for Minnesota.  We had planned to stop by my aunt’s house in Waco, TX and that seemed like a good plan to keep.  It would take us 9 hours to drive there and we would need to stop and rest anyway.  She lives in a community called Homestead Heritage.  They do what they can to live off the land and they make most everything by hand in their community.  From barns to furniture, cheese to soap, pottery to iron work, it’s all created there.  We planned to have more time but due to the circumstances it was a whirlwind visit of only about 16 hours.  We’ll go back to spend more time and take a few classes there.  They have a wood working class where you learn to make a brazos rocking chair that I would love to do.  On the morning of May 10th we left Waco and drove the entire day to my dad’s house in Rogers, MN.  It was like 1100 miles and took us about 14 1/2 hours.  We drove through two tornados and two severe thunderstorms.  One of each in Kansas and Missouri.  It was a pretty crazy day. When we arrived in Minnesota we spent all day Mother’s Day planning my mom’s memorial service and burial as well as sorting through her things.  Not exactly the way I saw that day going at the beginning of our trip.  We spent the next 9 days trying to organize her affairs.

On the morning of May 20th we hit the road again.  This time we picked up two extra people, a dog and a trailer full of stuff.  My little brother Kevin, his fiancé Kathryn and their 7 month old black lab Wynrie were headed to Colorado as well so we invited them to join us on the road.  Plus he had to tow the trailer since my rental van doesn’t have a trailer hitch.  It was also a great opportunity for us to hang out and see some new things together.  Our first stop was the Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD.  I thought it was going to be made entirely of corn but apparently it is just a normal building that is covered with corn cobs that have been cut in half.  It’s still pretty impressive though.  We spent about 10 minutes walking around it before deciding that was about enough.  We had a picnic lunch and hit the road again.  Next up was our camping spot for the night.  The weather was nice and we’re trying to keep it on the cheap so we decided to camp in the Badlands National Park.  We arrived just as the sun was setting.  It’s quite a site to see.  It never ceases to amaze me how much different the sky and the sunset can look depending on what state or country you are in.  It’s fascinating.  Anyway, we went for a little hike before setting up our tents.  We kind of debated about putting the rain fly on because it looked so nice and we wanted to look at the stars.  Good thing we did because about an hour after we went to sleep it started raining and did’t stop until the next day.  It’s bad enough when you have to break camp in the rain but if you get the inside of your tent wet, that’s just a disaster!

We woke up and got ready to go and realized that it was only like 6am.  I guess we were eager to get out of the rain.  On our way to Wall, SD we encountered a bunch of mule deer and some big horn sheep.  I got a couple good pics of the sheep.  Then it was on to breakfast.  I was pretty excited about some pancakes and eggs.  We saw a sign for a place called Road Trip Cafe or something.  Sounded like it was right up our alley.  Well it would have been, you know, if horrible food and incompetent staff was up our alley.  We showed up at 10am and they still hadn’t figured out how to turn on the lights.  Their sign said they opened at 6am!!  I’m serious!  I think we were the first people to come in for the day and they must have figured “ah well we won’t worry about it until customers actually show up.”  I could go on and on about it but I want to talk about happy and interesting things… like Wall Drug!  Holy cow this place was cool!  From the story of how they started to how they’ve turned into a thriving tourist attraction with over 2 Million visitors every year!!  We got coffee for 19¢, homemade donuts for $1, postcards were like a quarter and they had a million other things I would have bought if I had any space to carry it.  I was fascinated by all the old and new photographs of the family that owns the place.  It’s still owned and operated by the same family and they’re on the fourth generation of people.  Super cool.  We had to mosey along though.  The next stop was Mount Rushmore and then on to Crazy Horse.  I won’t bore you with the stories there, you can read them in the links.  They are amazing monuments though and I love going there.  It was my third time seeing both of them and everyone else’s first.  It’s still just as cool every time.  After that we kind of debated what to do.  We could have drove the Needles Highway or gone to Custer Park.  But we didn’t want to camp in the rain again and if we left then we could probably make Denver by 10pm.  We decided to head out and power through the last 350 miles to Denver.  We hit another tornado and some pretty good sized hail in Wyoming that gave us a bit of a scare but other than that it was pretty smooth sailing.  We arrived at our new home at around 10:30pm.  I guess the tornado got our adrenalin pumping so no one wanted to go to sleep right away.  We played a little card game to wind down and then crashed.  It was way better than camping!

Well, if you made it this far, congrats!  That was a pretty long post.  We’ve got a few more things to take care of here in Denver and then it’s on to Seattle tomorrow.  Stay tuned…

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