- Where We Started: Sioux Falls, S.D.
- Where We Ended: Omaha, Neb.
- Miles Driven: 316 (16,390 total).
- New States: Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska.
- States So Far: 29 (Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska)
THE DAY'S HIGHLIGHTS
Our departure from the Badlands on Friday night officlally put an end to the FHMA tour's western exploits, and our return to the eastern half of the country brought with it a change in the rhythm of a typical day. While our days out west tended to focus on a single destination (Death Valley, Yellowstone, Yosemite, etc.), our days in the eastern half of the nation are usually made up of smaller stops in multiple places. Saturday was no different, as we hit sites in South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska, working our way down the Missouri River in the process.
Our first stop was at the USS South Dakota Battleship Memorial in Sioux Falls, S.D. The South Dakota was in action from 1942 until 1947, and earned 13 battle stars for World War II service. The state wanted to honor the heroic performance of this ship, but couldn't have the actual ship, since it was sold for scrap in 1962 (not to mention it would have been tough to get the ship to landlocked South Dakota). But part of the salvage sale terms were that the buyer had to return $2 million of equipment from the ship. Much of this equipment now sits inside a concrete outline of the main deck of the USS South Dakota in a park in Sioux Falls. It was a clever way to honor the ship without, well, the ship.
Before departing Sioux Falls -- the first of four Sioux-named places we visited on Saturday; the others all coming in Iowa: Sioux City, Sioux Center and Little Sioux -- we decided to give Fred and Hank a run at a local off-leash dog park. Both dogs have been a little edgy of late, so we thought this would be a great stop. For Fred, it was. He wanted to run and play with Hank, but for the most part, Hank wasn't interested. Despite my best attempts to rile them up, I couldn't really get Hank going.
From Sioux Falls, we headed east on Interstate 90 and into Minnesota for the first of the barnstorming state tours necessary for us to hit every state before May 19. The rule of these stops are simple: You cannot count a state unless you get out of the car and do something there. In Minnesota, we headed to Blue Mounds State Park, north of Luverne, Minn. Featuring a Sioux quartzite cliff and hosting a bison herd, this park ended up not holding a ton of interest for us, since the quartzite is best viewed at sunset, and the bison herd decided to stay as far away from the road as possible. But we did manage get the beagles out of the car for some more exercise.
The more interesting stop in Minnesota was the Blue Mound Wayside Chapel, which we encountered completely by accident on the way to the park. This church was so tiny, you couldn't miss it. Listed by many Web sites as one of the smallest churches in the United States (here's one of those sites), the church can hold six to eight congregants and a minister. The chapel was built in 1963 at a total cost of $450.
Fred and Hank hang pose in front of the Blue Mound Wayside Chapel. Fred is probably whispering to Hank, "How many more times are we going to have to pose for these people?" Thanks to local residents, there are pamphlets and free Gideon bibles available inside the chapel.
The next major stop was Sioux City, Iowa -- hometown of Fred "Gopher" Grandy of "Love Boat" and congressional fame, and birthplace of Jerry "Leave It to Beaver" Mathers. Our first stop there was Stone State Park, which has some pretty overlooks across the Missouri River and into the far southeastern corner of South Dakota.
The other major stop in Sioux City was the Sergeant Floyd Monument, an obelisk set on the bluffs overlooking the Missouri River, which honors the only member of Lewis & Clark's expeditionary team to die on the trip. After dying of what most doctors and historians now believe was appendicitis, Charles Floyd buried in Sioux City.
From there, the FHMA team set its sights on Omaha, where we planned to spend the night. We took the leisurely approach to get there, however, bypassing Interstate 29 and driving the scenic roads on both the Nebraska and Iowa sides of the Missouri.
A massive corral alongside the highway in Walthill, Neb. If only we had smell-o-rama for this shot. Oh. My. God. This was only a small part of this huge facility.
Taking advantage of the late sunset time, we arrived in Omaha around 9pm, ate a quick dinner and crashed hard. Joan and I are both starting to wear down a bit from sleeping in a new bed every night. Not even Wilt Chamberlain saw this many different beds in such a short period of time.
- My note the other day about the geographic center of the United States got me thinking about some of the other geographically-based places of note in the U.S. In addition to the geographic center of the United States (20 miles north of Belle Fourche, S.D.) and the geographic center of the 48 states (Lebanon, Kan.), there's also the geographic center of North America (Rugby, N.D.) and the population center of the United States (near Edgar Springs, Mo.), though the latter honoree changes every new census. Other interesting U.S. geographical facts:
- Northernmost town: Barrow, Alaska
- Westernmost town: Adak, Alaska
- Southernmost town: Na'alehu, Hawaii
- Easternmost town: Lubec, Maine
- NOTE: If you limited these directional titles to the 48 states, the northernmost town would become Angle Township, Minnesota; the westernmost town would become Ozette, Washington; and the southernmost town would become Key West, Florida.
- On our drive on Saturday, we cruised through LeMars, Iowa, which proudly proclaims itself the "Ice Cream Capital of the World." Joan and I both felt this required more investigation, so we stopped. Turns out LeMars bases this claim on the fact that -- per its Web site -- "more ice cream is produced in Le Mars, Iowa, by a single company than in any other city in the world!" Obviously, the key words here are "a single company." There's obviously a city out there that makes more ice cream, but it's split up among multiple companies. In LeMars, the big dog is Wells Dairy, the maker of Blue Bunny Ice Cream. Assuming what the LeMars Web site says is true, I think this claim is probably OK. I have nothing against a town looking to market itself, as long as it doesn't just make stuff up. By the way, Joan and I decided that -- if this was what the town was all about -- then we owed it to ourselves to stop and sample the product. Oddly, we did not have this same instinct when cruising through Selma, Calif. (the "Raisin Capital of the World") or Gilroy, Calif. (the "Garlic Capital of the World"). Now, if only we'd encounter the "Funyuns Capital of the World."
- As we were cruising down I-29, we saw a sign that said, "Modern Rest Stop: 12 Miles." Joan and I spent some time trying to figure out what would make a rest stop qualify as "modern." We figured toilets were pretty well-established at this stage, so that couldn't be it. Same with vending machines. What we never guessed was the rest stop, located in the Iowa town of Missouri Valley, would have Wi-Fi. Neither of us had ever seen a rest stop with Wi-Fi, and while we didn't stop to use it, I wished I'd seen this rest stop when I was fruitlessly trying to publish our blog from the car last week. Turns out most of the rest stops in Iowa are now equipped with Wi-Fi. You go, Iowa!
- Good news. I made it through a day without running over any cute animals (or animals of any kind, for that matter).
- Random iPod shuffle song of the day: "The Tracker," by Peter Gabriel. This song is off an album called "The Long Walk Home," which features music from Gabriel's soundtrack for the film, "Rabbit-Proof Fence." It's a pretty interesting album, though if you happen to like Peter Gabriel and want to give his more atmospheric stuff a whirl, I'd first download his soundtrack work from the films "Birdy" or "The Last Temptation of Christ."
- Here's the Day 7 report on our A-to-Z iPod Exploration:
- First Song of the Day: "Bound for Canaan," by Ry Cooder (from "Geronimo: An American Legend").
- Last Song of the Day: "Bummed Out City," by Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros.
- Best Songs: "The Boys of Summer," by Don Henley; "Brass in Pocket," by The Pretenders; "Brick," by Ben Folds Five; "Bridge Over Troubled Water," by Simon & Garfunkel; "Bright Side of the Road," by Van Morrison; "Bringin' on the Heartbreak," by Def Leppard; "Brown Eyed Girl," by Van Morrison; "Building Steam With a Grain of Salt," by DJ Shadow; "Bullet With Butterfly Wings," by Smashing Pumpkins.
- Pleasant Surprises: "A Boy Named Sue," by Johnny Cash; "Broken Levee Blues," by DJ Shadow; "Buckaroo," by Duane Eddy.
- Guilty Pleasures: "Brandy (You're a Fine Girl)," by Looking Glass.
- Bad Songs by Good Artists: "Brain of J.," by Pearl Jam; "Breed," by Nirvana; "Bring Back My Happiness," by Moby; "Bugs," by Pearl Jam.
- Great Rediscoveries: "Break It Up," by Foreigner; "The Breakup Song (They Don't Write 'Em)," by Greg Kihn.
- Most Inappropriate Random Sequencing of Songs: "Brick," by Ben Folds Five, a somber song about an abortion, followed immediately by "Brick House," a not-very-deep song by the Commodores.
- Lunch: Bob's, Sioux Falls, S.D.: Sioux Falls has two Roadfood restaurants, and I finally chose to go to Bob's because the other place had recently undergone a management change, and that's always a bit dodgy. And, as the saying goes, sometimes it's better to be lucky than good. This place was a home run on all fronts. From the minute we walked into this 12-seat hole in the wall, you felt like you'd lived in Sioux Falls your whole life. The staff could not have been friendlier. They asked how we'd heard about them, and we told them via Roadfood. They then pulled out a notebook that out-of-towners have signed, and asked if we'd sign it. Oh, and the food was terrific. Chicken breast is a specialty of Bob's, so Joan got that with sides of cole slaw and baked beans. She loved it all, especially the cole slaw, which has a very sweet taste, thanks to a secret ingredient that the owner would not divulge. Joan tried her best booking-a-hotel-room persuasive techniques, guessing that the secret ingredient was marshmallow or Cool Whip, but the only response she got was "Those are common guesses." I did my usual artery damage with a Bob burger, featuring bacon and BBQ sauce. All told, this was one of the our best meal experiences of the trip. Jim Nutrition Rating: 1 stars (out of 5). What did you expect? Restaurant Rating: 5 stars (out of 5). A slam dunk.
- Dinner: Joe Tess Place, Omaha, Neb.: We were hoping to go 2-for-2 on Roadfood recommendations on Saturday, but this place let us down. It has a friendly, open dining room, and the service was lovely. But Joan's fisherman's chowder was unmemorable, and she was a tad irked that the salad she ordered only came with three fried shrimp. I had a good shrimp cocktail to start, but then ordered the house specialty -- carp -- and soon learned something new about myself: I don't like carp. Jim Nutrition Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5). Grilled fish. Good! Shrimp cocktail. Good! French fries. Bad Jim! Restaurant Rating: 2.5 stars (out of 5).
- Ramada Omaha, Omaha, Neb.: Joan thought she was booking another Baymont in Omaha, since she'd gotten the listing for this hotel out of our Baymont book, plus the guy on the phone took our Baymont number. So imagine our surprise when we arrived to find it was a Ramada. Both Baymont and Ramada are owned by Wyndham, so it was no big deal, but we drove past th Ramada twice because we thought we were looking for a Baymont. Luckily, our room was huge, and the hotel seemed empty, so it was a quiet, relaxing stay. Bonus: Joan got some laundry done as well. Thumbs up for our first Ramada experience of the FHMA tour. Hotel rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5).
COMMENT OF THE DAY
BONUS BEAGLE PHOTOS