Tuesday, July 24, 2012


Town readies for July 4 festivities along Mississippi
We were in La Crosse, Wisconsin over 4th of July.  The city is situated on the Mississippi River - the name comes from Indian words meaning Father of Waters. The Mississippi actually starts about 200 miles north of Minneapolis and creates the border between Minnesota and Wisconsin.   Our hotel overlooked the river which runs 2,352 miles down to the Gulf of Mexico and is used by 60% of all North American bird species as a migratory flyway.  Barges run up and down the waterway, each carrying the equivalent 58 semi truck trailers.  One barge carries enough wheat to make 2.25 million loaves of bread.  
Stone cottages in Mineral Point
From there, we drove through miles and miles of farmland to Mineral Point, Wisconsin.  This was during the height of the heat wave and we saw endless acres of corn gradually turning brown. Mineral Point is reminiscent of a small English village thanks to an influx of miners from Cornwall, England in the early 1800s.  Skilled in hard rock mining and stone masonry, they came to the area to mine the rich mineral deposits.  Now the population is less than 3,000 but at one time, more people lived here than in Milwaukee and Chicago combined. 

Scott & Ann at their dental office
We moved on to Delafield, Wisconsin and had a wonderful week at the Delafield Hotel.  The hotel is lovely, quite new but built to reflect the colonial era.   In fact, the whole town has a colonial flavor.  Our friends, Ann and Scott, came up over the weekend.  On our way to Chicago, we stopped to see them at Scott's beautiful, new dental office.  He wanted a set of x-rays in case we ever have a problem during our travels.  What a friend!
Trudy in her elegant Chicago apartment

Out on the town: Trudy, Scott, Geri, Ann, Ron
We continued into Chicago
to spend a few days with Trudy, another friend from the 2011 World Cruise.  What a magnificent apartment she has on Lake Shore Drive.  Ann and Scott joined us one night and the 5 of us had a great night out.  Another World Cruise friend, Alan, was in town from Colorado so we got to spend some time with him as well.

Caroline, Nick, Clare & Norman (with ball in mouth)
We relocated to a suburb of Chicago in order to see a girlfriend I had not seen in over 40 years.  That's a lot to catch up on!  And, we were able to spend some time with our niece Caroline and her family who had just moved to Evanston so she can obtain her Master's degree at Northwestern.   

This has been a very social segment of our journey.  As I have said before, one of the best aspects of this trip is seeing friends we met on our travels who live scattered across the country.  We feel so fortunate to know so many lovely, fun and interesting people.

BOOK NEWS: I am working on a new book called "The Relationship Handbook."  If interested, you can read excerpts on my website www.gerioneill.com.

Monday, July 2, 2012


Trail End
Frank and Julia
With 46 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, Sheridan, Wyoming  is proud of its heritage.  Walking Main Street, it is easy to picture the town 100 years ago.   On the hill, overlooking town is Trail End, former home of John Kendrick, a cattle baron, governor and U.S. senator.  Completed in 1913 at the cost of $164,000, it would cost millions today.  

Best part of our stop here was that Julia and Frank, our good friends from Fort Collins, Colorado spent a couple of days with us on their way to Montana. 
Crazy Horse Monument

Leaving Wyoming, we  entered the Black Hills  of South Dakota, so named because the dark green pines seen from a distance look black.  Don’t be fooled.  The area is green and gorgeous. 

Crazy Horse Model
All of Mount Rushmore would fit in
section behind his face
 We spent 3 days in the town of Custer named after Lt. Col.  George Armstrong Custer who led the first gold expedition into the Black Hills and was later killed at the Battle of Little Big Horn in southeast Montana.  After unpacking the car, we headed to the Crazy Horse Memorial.  When Mount Rushmore Memorial was created in their homeland, elders of the Lakota Indian Tribe approached sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski.  Saying, “the red man has great heroes also,” they asked him to carve the likeness of Crazy Horse into a mountain in the Black Hills.  Korczak agreed, moved west and spent the rest of his life on the project.  It broke ground in 1948.  Although he died in 1982, most of his 10 children continue the work today.

Got food?
The next 2 days we explored Custer State Park, surely one of the most beautiful parks in the country.  The first day, we drove the Wildlife Loop.  We saw sheep, pronghorns and friendly burros who come up to the car hoping for a handout.  But aside from 2 bison in the distance, we were frustrated that none of the herd of 1,300 the park boasts were to be found.  Then, on our final leg, we rounded a curve and a buffalo was grazing right by the curb.  He could not have been more than 10’ from the car as I took pictures.  

One of a herd of 1,300 in the park
Buffalo are huge animals. They can be 6’ tall and weigh over 2,000 pounds.  It is estimated that 30 – 60 million roamed the Great Plains of North America when Columbus discovered America.  The Indians used every part of the buffalo.  Aside from food, it provided material for clothing, shelter and tools.  They called him Tatonka and believed he symbolized the Great Spirit since he provided so much that sustained them.  By the late 1880s, bison were practically extinct.  A few individuals led the charge to preserve the animal.  Between parks and private herds, there are presently about 60,000 in the country. 
One of the wider tunnels
The eye of the needle
Sylvan Lake
The next day we drove the  endless curves and narrow tunnels of Needles Highway (so named because of granite peaks formed up to 2 billion years ago) and Iron Mountain Road.   We took a break at Sylvan Lake and hiked the trail around the lake.  Then it was on to nearby  Keystone to see Mount Rushmore.
 Everyone has seen pictures of this national monument but to see it in person is quite breathtaking.  The faces of the 4 presidents - Washington, Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt and Lincoln - are 60 feet tall.  Washington has the longest nose at 21 feet; the others are 20 feet long.   As with Crazy Horse, most of the work is done with dynamite, blasting the stone away to within 2 inches of the finished surface.  Unlike Crazy Horse, Mt. Rushmore was created between 1927 and 1941, and only 6 years involved actual carving.  The difference is that Crazy Horse refuses government funds and employs only 12 full time workers on the mountain; it may forever be a work in progress.  Gutzon Borglum, the man who carved the Confederate Memorial on Stone Mountain in Georgia was the master artist behind Mount Rushmore.  Believe it or not, the project originated with the hope of drawing tourists to the Black Hills.  Did it ever succeed!  
Auto mania downtown Sioux Falls
The falls in Sioux Falls
 Our final stop in South Dakota was Sioux Falls.  With about 170,000 population, it is the biggest city in the state.  It has a very nice downtown which was filled to overflowing one night with car enthusiasts and their old, restored autos.  Falls Park, created around the namesake falls on the Sioux river, were created about 14,000 years ago during the last Ice Age and are a series of falls cascading over pink quartzite rocks.
The falls in Sioux Falls
Now we will cross Minnesota into Wisconsin.

TRAVEL TIP: If you do go to the Black Hills, plan to stay in Custer not Keystone.  It is much more convenient for visiting the state park and Crazy Horse, and easy to get to Mount Rushmore.