Great Lakes & Great Plains

Click on thumbnailsJuly, 2013
By Jack Welsch


This was our first major US road trip; hopefully the first of many.  The vision was a big loop ranging as far west as Montana and Wyoming.  Since we had missed Mackinac Island last year, that was in the mix and, since I had somehow managed to live for 66 years within 300 miles of Niagra Falls without having a look, that went in as well,  All in all, a circuitous but enjoyable route.  In total, we drove about 5,500 miles, saw all 5 Great Lakes and a fair bit of the West, and had a great time.

My Journal

Saturday, July 13 - Home to Fairport, NY
- Starting odometer reading 43,598

It was 10:35 by the time we were truly away. Our route was I-81 north to Cortland, NY, then NY 41 to Skaneateles.  We'd planned on eating lunch in that quaint town but it being a summer weekend, the place was an absolute zoo.  Lunch was therefore delayed to the Bucket BBQ in Auburn.  That place was actually quite good and fast as well.

We got to my brother Tom's at about 2:45 and after a very short stop, Lin, Tom and I set off for his sailboat, a Columbia 30.  We just missed the 3:00 bridge opening so motored south on the Genesee River a bit and got through the bridge at 3:30.  The wind was perfect and I enjoyed sailing again after so many years.  Tom's boat is beautiful and sails like a dream.  We got back through the bridge at the 5:30 opening, checked into the Holiday Inn Express and picked up Tom's wife, Rhonda, for the short drive to Fairport. 

Dinner was delightful outside at Donnelly's Public House after which we had a nice walk along the canal and fantastic ice cream at Lickety Splits. While walking we noticed some nice canal boats that are for hire so that raises a future possibility...  We were settled into our room before 10:30.

Sunday, July 14 - Rochester, NY to Niagara Falls, ON

We were up at 7:30, had breakfast at 8:30 and were on the road by 9:25.  Our route was I-490 to I-390 and then NY18 (the NY Seaway) almost all the way to Niagara Falls, NY.  Against all advice, I wanted to see the US side of the falls and heartily agree with all others; it SUCKS!  As an American, I'm embarrassed by the seediness.  We did have a look at the falls from that perspective and even paid the $1 per person to go to the tower.  While it did give an interesting visual perspective of the falls, it was certainly not worth the $10 I paid to park the car, much less the hour of my life that I can never reclaim.

It took a bit to get through customs into Canada but we were at the Sheraton by about 12:30 and, fortunately, were able to check in immediately.  I just got to the room when I discovered I'd left my Tilley hat in the car and, though I rushed right back down, the car had been taken by the valet who was not yet back with the key.  When he returned, he and I walked to the car to retrieve the hat as I simply cannot live without it. 

Unfortunately, the Sheraton is attached to a water park so the lobby was mobbed with screaming kids.  While I was chasing my hat. Linda asked about a quiet place for lunch and we were directed to the nearby "Secret Garden", which was an oasis of calm.  Because the temperature outside was oppressive, we chose to eat inside.  Afterwards, we walked along the river towards Horseshoe Falls.  The Canadian side is as beautiful as the US side is ugly.  Makes me even more ashamed!  Do to the heat, we cut our walk short and returned to the room by 3:30 to chill (an interesting choice of words).  Our room, number 2176, was in a perfect location with a wonderful view of the falls.

We wanted a nice dinner so made 7:00 reservations at the Windows restaurant on the hotel's 13th floor.  We had a perfect window table with a wonderful view of the falls. We both ordered pickerel which, I'm afraid, was disappointing.  There was a couple at the table next to us and I commented to the guy about his 'Fiji Rugby" shirt.  It turned out that they were Aussies from north of Sydney who had visited Fiji last year.  Since we had been in both Australia and Fiji in April, we spoke to them intermittently throughout the meal.  When we were all finished eating, we moved our chairs to their table.  They had just arrived and their itinerary involved Kingston, ON; Albany, NY; Boston, NYC; Washington, and San Antonio.

I mentioned that we had to get to the room by 10:00 to watch the fireworks. They had the same plans and we learned that they were in the room next to ours.  They invited us to watch from their room but I'd noticed earlier that their view was a bit restricted so we all ordered wine to go and adjourned to our room.  Though the fireworks were over by about 10:15, we continued to talk until 11:30. It was an absolutely perfect evening.  I told them of Noah's possible performance at the Sydney Opera House next year and they invited us to stay with them if we come over. 

Monday, 7/15 - Niagara Falls, ON to Sudbury, ON

Though we had not set it, the alarm went off at 6:30 but we were able to sleep until 7:30 and were out by 8:30.  Based on a recommendation, I drove to Niagara-on-the-Lake, which is an amazingly picturesque city where we enjoyed a nice breakfast in a peaceful patio behind Yianni's Mediterranean Bistro.

Leaving there, we stayed along the lakeshore to St. Catherine's, where we picked up the QEW.  We had some anxiety about the toll on Rt 407 as there were no toll booths and we have no transponder.  According to signs, they will find us and send a bill.  Strange! 

From Toronto, we took Rt. 400 north, stopped at the Bay Street Café in Perry Sound for lunch and got to the Hampton Inn in Sudbury by about 5:30.  After hanging around the room for a bit we had dinner in Buzzy Brown's.  It wasn't too bad but there were some loud people with even louder kids that took some of the enjoyment away. 

Back in the room, Lin spent an hour or so getting us room reservations for Thursday night in Duluth.

Tuesday, July 16 Sudbury, ON to St. Ignace, MI

We were up at 6:00, had a very nice breakfast in the hotel and were on the road by 7:30.  The drive across Canada was beautiful. We crossed into MI at noon and checked into the Best Western Plus Harbour Pointe in St. Ignace, MI before 1:00, dropped the bags in the room and caught the 1:30 Shepfler's Ferry to Mackinac Island. (if you say it like it's spelled, you get pegged as a tourist, it's "Mackinaw"!)  We got seats on the top deck but it was bloody hot up there. The lake was full of sails and a lot of spinnakers were flying so it didn't take much to imagine we were witnessing a race.  As we neared the harbor, we saw lots of people crowding the shore and a gun kept firing.  It turned out we were at the finish of the annual Chicago to Mackinac raceConsequently, the island, though amazingly quaint, was absolutely mobbed!

Lunch was at Horn's Gaslight Bar, after which we took a carriage ride, which was very long and actually involved two different carriages.  Back in town we quickly bought some fudge, then hustled to the pier to catch the 5:30 ferry back to St. Ignace.

Given the long day and oppressive heat, we just crashed for a while but made 7:30 dinner reservations at The Galley.  When we got there it was apparent that the reservations were a great idea as we were pushed in front of hoards of people and got a great window table.  Lin had perch and enjoyed it.  I had bluegill for the first time since I caught it as a kid and it was great as well.

Wednesday, July 17 - St. Ignace, MI to Ironwood, MI

Pictured RocksWe set the alarm for 6:45, were at breakfast in the hotel at 7:30 and on the road before 8:30.  Arriving in Munesing at 10:45, we bought tickets for the 12:00 Pictured Rocks tour.  I'd thought we'd either have time for a quick lunch on land or that food would be available on the boat but neither was true.  The lady at the ticket counter said the boat would be full and we should line up on the pier as early as 11:00 to get choice seats.  Consequently, we grabbed some snacks and lined up shortly after 11. It was a hot day with blazing sun but a mercifully cool breeze off the lake.  We ended up talking in line to 4 other couples from all over the place and the time went quickly.  One couple was from MT and WY so we got some travel tips.

Pictured RocksThe tour was 2:40 hours long and was truly enjoyable.  The rocks are fantastic and I'm afraid the pictures don't do them justice.

Back on land we had lunch at the Navigator Restaurant near the pier and talked to some locals at the next table.  Everyone up here is really nice.
It was a long drive to Ironwood, where we arrived at 6:30 local time (7:30 internal clock time), checked in to the surprisingly nice (and inexpensive) AmericInn, and had dinner at the recommended Tacconelli's Towne House.  Meals were good and absolutely huge. Service was friendly as it always is up here.

Heading for the hotel after dinner,  we almost forgot about the 52 ft. fiberglass statue of Hiawatha about which Linda had read.  Going there more as a lark, I was impressed with how nice it really was. 

Thursday, July 18 - Ironwood, MI to Duluth, MN

While I'm officially retired, I still do a bit of teaching and consulting and was scheduled to have a teleconference meeting with a client at 10:00 Eastern time (9:00 locally).  Consequently, we set the alarm for 7:30, had breakfast at the hotel, and got on the road at 9:45 with Linda driving and me with my tablet in my hands, all loaded with the PowerPoints for the meeting.  We had some frustrating connectivity issues as we drove across the rather deserted Upper Peninsula so it was not without its frustrations but, in the end, the meeting came off OK.

We arrived at our son Eric's house at about 11:00 and shortly thereafter went to the Duluth Grill for lunch with him, Becka, Hannah and Hannah's friend, Jayden.  This place has an interesting menu; very strange combinations.  Portions were huge as seems to be common out here.

Becka was kind enough to do our laundry while we took Eric to the mall to buy something for our granddaughter, Madie.  The Fairfield, where we had reservations, was near the mall so while there we checked in.  Afterwards, we just hung around Eric's until it was time to go see Madie. In the meantime, Becka had to leave for work; that was a bummer but not to be helped.  Madie went absolutely nuts when she saw us and we spent 2 hours with her.  After swinging by their home to pick up Hannah, we had dinner at Grizzley's Wood-File Grill. I think they have the best fajitas anywhere and tonight they were "all-you-can-eat" so I was in heaven (at least until the early morning hours when I paid a very high price!)

Friday, July 19 - Duluth, MN to  Alexandria, MN

We were up at 8:00 and met the kids for breakfast at the very interesting "Uncle Louis' Café" for breakfast.  Uncle Louis' is a local institution.  It is the antithesis of class and gourmet but something not to be missed. 

We were on the road by about 11:00 headed for Brainerd, then Alexandria.  We considered staying at the Arrowhead Resort in Alexandria and they did have vacancy but the place reminded us too much of the tacky Pocono resorts back home so we moved on, ending up at a nearby Hampton Inn.   We had a wonderful dinner at Doolittle's Woodfire Grill; delicious meal and great service.  The wine was an excellent blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Gewürztraminer from Kamiak.

Saturday, July 20, Alexandria, MN to Bismarck, ND

After sleeping in and eating at the hotel we were on the road by about 10:00.  We'd been told that the drive across North Dakota was terribly boring so, based on that and some information from a former colleague, we had originally planned that we would drive through South Dakota on US 12, drop down on US 85 to the South Dakota Badlands and Black Hills, then, after a stay there, swing north into Montana. 

When Becka recommended we see the North Dakota Badlands (something we never knew existed) the plan was still to take US12 and then swing up to I-94 at Bismarck, saving the more famous South Dakota Badlands for the trip back East.  Once we saw the GPS time estimate, however, we opted for I-94 all the way. 

I must say that I'm glad that we decided to drive across North Dakota; I found it quite picturesque in its own way.  We stopped in Jamestown, ND to see the National Buffalo Museum and Pioneer Village.  Yes, they were touristy but run by volunteers and actually quite well done.  Before getting back on the interstate we made the mistake if having lunch at Pizza Ranch.  The pizza was OK but the staff were idiots.

The rest of the day's drive was enjoyable as well and we arrived at the Wingate in Bismarck at about 4:30 and I did some consulting work for a while prior to our 7:00 dinner reservations at la Piroque Grille in town.  The chicken & peanut pot stickers, salad with warm goat cheese-stuffed dates, walleye for me and filet for Linda accompanied by a McMurray Ranch pinot noir were all absolutely perfect!!  We hit the rack at about 10:00

Sunday, July 21 - Bismarck, ND to Billings, MT

We were up at 6:45, had breakfast in the hotel and were on the road by 8:30.  A few minutes later it was 7:30 as we crossed into Mountain time.  Today's drive was a long one but broken by a visit to the South Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park; home of the lesser-known Badlands of North Dakota. I had never even heard of badlands in ND until Becka told me of them and I'm sure glad she did as they are absolutely fantastic.  I took a zillion pictures including some of a bison walking along the shoulder of the road.  Others crossed the road behind our car.  In all, we spend about 2-1/2 hours in the park.  Lunch was at the Little Missouri Dining Room & Saloon in Medora, near the park entrance.  I enjoyed an elk burger with blue cheese and caramelized onion. 

After a lot more driving we arrived at the Billings Hampton Inn & Suites West.  We were pretty whipped so ate at "Montana's Rib and Chop House" just a short drive from the hotel.  It was OK but nothing to rave about.

Monday, July 22 -  Billings, MT to Bozeman, MT

This was supposed to be an easy 2-hour drive to Bozeman via I-90 but our plans changed.  I read in our big "The Most Scenic Drives in America" book about a scenic drive in the Bear Tooth mountains so we exited the interstate at Columbus, following MT 78 to Red Lodge, then US 212 over Bear Tooth pass, one of the highest on earth at 10,900 feet.  The scenery was fantastic.  Until this point, I'd been a little disappointed at Montana scenery but route 78 showed me exactly what I'd hoped to see.  We passed through Red Lodge at about 11:15 and it was almost 2:00 when we got to Cooke City, having had a harrowing drive up and over the mountain. Lunch was on the patio at "The Bistro" in Cooke City.  Over the weekend there had been a huge motorcycle rally in Red Lodge and this town as well as all the roads were still  mobbed with bikers.  Thank God we didn’t try to get through on the weekend! 

Shortly thereafter we entered the Northeast Gate to Yellowstone National Park heading for the North Gate.  The drive was spectacular in all respects.  We saw several bison along the way but at one point Linda spotted a herd of what had to be a hundred or more.  I, of course, stopped constantly for pictures including one time for some mule deer.

What could have been a routine 2 hours on the Interstate ended up being a wonderful full day adventure; absolutely wonderful.  I told Linda that if we had to return home immediately, this day would have made the trip worthwhile nevertheless. 

It was about 6:30 when we arrived at the Hampton Inn in Bozeman.  A few minutes later another guest entered our room!  The girl at the desk had given us a different room after we mentioned the loud room we'd had in Billings.  Unfortunately, she apparently never put the change into the computer. 

Dinner was at Montana's Best Ale House.  Great meal and nice ambiance in an old train station except for the fact that it was terribly loud.  When we returned from dinner our keys did not work.  When I went back down to have her correct the error she said, "Yeah, I was afraid that might happen." Hmmmm.  I got to bed at about 11:00.

Tuesday, July 23 - Bozeman, MT

When I got up around 5 there was a receipt under the door.  That was a bad sign as we'd made reservations for 2 nights!  I was concerned that the girl at the desk had screwed that up as well and that we might be homeless for the second night as rooms in the area were hard to come by.  In the morning, I discovered that the receipt was not mine!  I went to the now different desk clerk and she not only corrected the error, she comped one night!

This was to be a day of rest after all the pounding we'd done so we were in no hurry to rush out.  Lin started the laundry before breakfast and put it in the dryer afterwards so it was about 10:00 by the time we set off with not much of a plan.  We drove west on MT 84 to Norris, got gas and, since there was nothing else there, headed back.  The drive along the Madison River, however, was picturesque.  At Four Corners, we turned south on US 191 for a while, then turned left and returned to Bozeman on back roads. Bozeman had looked cute as we'd driven through last night so we parked and walked a bit before having a sandwich at "Main Street Overeasy" downtown.

After picking up some groceries, we returned to the room where Lin relaxed while I put in some time on a report for a client.

The clerk in the gas station in Norris had mentioned the Tuesday night farmers' market in Bozeman's Bogert Park but after searching for and eventually finding a parking place, we concluded that it was nothing special.  We'd thought maybe we'd eat there but there was nowhere to sit or even lean so we soon left. 

Right after we'd eaten lunch, we had passed "Sharky's Authentic Americana" and Lin remarked that it was cute so that's where we headed for a great meal and wine with perfect service from "Sunny" A.K.A. Sarah.  We were back in the room at 8:30.

Wednesday, July 24 - Bozeman, MT to Cody, WY

We knew this would be a long day so we were up at 5:30, ate quickly, grabbed a couple of sandwiches, topped off the tank and grabbed some sandwiches at Conoco and were in the way to Yellowstone by about 6:30.  The drive down US 191 was spectacular and a great way to bid farewell to beautiful Montana. We entered the West Gate and headed directly for Old Faithful.  I stopped several times for pictures but we passed up the other geothermal sites, having recently visited Rotorua, New Zealand, a much more active area.   The sparseness of the crowd around Old Faithful made it obvious that we had just missed an eruption.  We talked for a while with a senior volunteer named Linda who, ironically, was from Pottsville, PA, not far from our home, then walked around the visitor's center for a bit before getting literally front row seats for the eruption.  The wait of almost an hour was made more bearable by the relatively cool temperature and conversation with folks nearby.  We were surprised at two smaller eruptions, a very small one nearby and a larger one some distance away.  In the meantime, Old Faithful was belching steam; sometime weakly and sometimes with more gusto.  The eruption itself was quite impressive and went on for longer than I would have thought. 

Upon leaving Old Faithful, we headed for the Yellowstone Grand Canyon, stopping at a relatively secluded spot along the Yellowstone River for lunch.  I waded in the river and found it not to be nearly as cold as I'd expected.  Back on the road, we found ourselves in the slow-moving bumper-to-bumper traffic I'd heard about, said, "The Hell with this!", did a U-turn and lit out for the East Gate and Cody, WY.

I don't know why but I'd expected the terrain to flatten shortly out after we left Yellowstone but such was not the case; it was mountainous, dramatic and beautiful.

Cody Night RodeoWe arrived in Cody at about 4:00, checked into the AmericInn and drove into town, stopping at the visitor's center where we bought tickets for the Cody Night Rodeo and got recommendations for dinner.  The town itself was a bit of a disappointment so we simply made a loop through it and returned to the hotel.

Cody Night RodeoWe had an early dinner at Geyser Terrace so we'd have plenty of time to get choice seats at the rodeo.  I had a great, very spicy buffalo meatloaf while Lin enjoyed a southwest chicken alfredo.  It was pouring rain as we made the short drive to the rodeo where we sat in the parking lot until shortly before the 7:00 opening of the gates.  In reward for our early arrival, we got superb seats in the front row of the "Buzzards' Roost", which boasts the only seats with backs.  The show lasted from 8:00 to 10:00 and was great.  It was the first I'd seen since the Boy Scout Jamboree in Colorado in 1960!

Thursday, July 25 - Cody, WY to Rapid City, SD

We awoke without the alarm at 7:20, had breakfast at the hotel and were on the road by 9:30.  The GPS took us over the Bighorn Mountains, a spectacular but somewhat nerve-wracking ride. 

Though the day's drive was a long one, we took a side-trip to see the very impressive Devil's TowerDevil's Tower, arriving at the Hampton Inn in Rapid City about 6:45.  We checked in and learning that the elevator would be out of service for 20 minutes, went to "Minerva's" for some fantastic filets and a nice zinfandel.

When we finally got to our room, we discovered that our "King Whirlpool Suite" was indeed a two-room suite, not just an oversized room with a king-sized bed along one wall and a whirlpool bath stuck on the corner.  Given that we'd be staying for three nights, it was a pleasant surprise!

Friday, July 26 - Rapid City, SD

We'd agreed that this would be another decompression day so we slept until 8:45, ate a disappointing breakfast and Lin did the laundry while I did some writing. All in all, it was 11:45 by the time we got out of the hotel and headed for "Mount Rushmore Black Hills Gold" so Linda could get some trinkets.  She bought a number of shiny things that got me off the hook for finding a birthday present, then we took a tour of the factory.  I had been somewhat skeptical but was impressed by the intricate manual process of making this delicate jewelry.

We'd hoped to find a place to eat before entering Bear Country USA but struck out and just grabbed some junk at a Conoco.  Bear Country is certainly touristy and there were quite a few cars lined up to get in when we got there.  It's essentially a drive-thru zoo where you follow a serpentine road through many different areas, each with its own types of wildlife.  We moved along slowly but smoothly until we approached the black bear area where things came to a virtual halt.   The reason was obvious when we got into that compound, however as there were a LOT of black bears all over, including some the road.  Everyone was naturally stopping  to take pictures.  You were admonished to keep the windows up.  There was even a guy in a watchtower in the center of the compound keeping an eye on things. 

With some time left in the day, we decided to see Deadwood and that was a mistake as there was a rodeo so town was absolutely jammed.  We'd thought we might have dinner there but blew that off and headed back.  I decided to drive through Sturgis rather than bypass it in the interstate and, as they were getting ready for the Rally, there were tents, trucks and activity everywhere.  Interesting.

Dinner was at Delmonico Grill in downtown Rapid City. This area was also mobbed as there was a concert going on in the city square.  Shops and restaurants were open and there were people everywhere.  I had a terrible time finding a parking spot.  As frustrating as that was, it was refreshing to see a city center so vibrant as so many are dying.  Dinner and wine were again excellent. 

Across the street was a store called "Prairie Edge" and we spent a bit of time there after dinner.  It's a fascinating place with some beautiful things including some amazing art.

As I was writing my journal back in the room, I suddenly got a blinding headache so went to bet at about 9:30.

Saturday, July 27 - Rapid City, SD

This was another easy day but a great one. Mount RushmoreWe were up at 7:30, ate at the hotel again and set off for Mount Rushmore.  I noticed a low tire though and, when I tried to fill it, found that stem cap was frozen to the stem and I had to borrow a wrench to get it off.  I was a bit nervous about the tire and Lin wasn't feeling all that well anyway so we retreated to the hotel for a while.  It was 11:30 by the time we were off again.  For the first time on this trip the sky was completely overcast but by the time we got to Mount Rushmore it was starting to burn off and I got some nice photos. 

Crazy Horse memorialOur next stop was to the Crazy Horse memorial and I must admit that, though it's far from finished, it was much more impressive.  This is entirely privately funded; they've turned away federal funding.  The sculpture is absolutely HUGE.  Though work has been going on for 65 years, I don't know that my grandchildren or even great-grandchildren will see it finished. They had a nifty gift shop where most of the items have been donated to help fund the operation. We like native pottery so bought two pots, one Navajo and one Sioux. 

Leaving there, we wanted to see more of the Black Hills and, after some discussion, decided on the "Wildlife Loop" through Custer State Park.  We had to buy a pass for $15. Pointing at the map, the lady at the gate told us that burros has been spotted at one place and "the whole herd" of bison at another.  The scenery was beautiful but we saw no wildlife at all until we spotted the burros almost a mile away from the road.  A bit later as we topped a hill we came across some people out of their cars with cameras and binoculars so stopped to see what they were looking at.  They were headed in the opposite direction and it turned out they'd seen nothing and were just trying to spot something from that vantage point. 

Farther along, however, was perhaps the highlight of the entire trip.  Again cars were parked on both sides of the road with people out with cameras. A lot of bison were coming down the road from the opposite direction, turning in across a field and then walking through the woods not far from our car.  I, unwisely, got out and ventured a bit closer to get some pictures but when some bulls seemed to take an interest in me, retreated quickly. The line of bison stopped and traffic started moving and us with it.  Shortly, however, more came along and everything stopped again.  That happened countless times and we passed what must have been hundreds of bison (the herd numbers 1,300!)  Many of them passed within 2 or 3 feet of my car and some were actually walking directly at the car before detouring around it.  Now, THAT'S close!After some time we were completely stopped by a bull and a cow in our lane looking at a calf that was on the opposite side of a guard rail.  There was only one pick-up truck between them and us and it seemed to be a standoff.  Eventually, a car coming the other way stopped well short and about 5 of us quickly dashed behind the bull and cow and were on the way again.  We were indeed fortunate.  People coming the other way were held up as we were but, as they were traveling with the herd, those in the back may have seen nothing of them.  All in all, it was a great occasion for us.

Dinner was at the "Wine Cellar" in downtown Rapid City.  Once again town was packed with another concert going on but we lucked out with a parking spot in front of the restaurant.  I had jerked chicken over curried banana slices and it was absolutely perfect.  Lin had chicken en croute and enjoyed that as well.

We got to bed at about 10:30.

Sunday, July 28 - Rapid City, SD to Sioux Falls, SD

Wall DrugWith two exceptions, this was a day of pounding the highway.  I was up at 7:15 and Linda shortly thereafter.  We were out of the hotel at 8:30.  Having eaten quite enough of the dry powdered scrambled eggs and the noisy crowds at the hotel, breakfast was instead at the Millstone a few doors away. The meal was good but the service not great. We were, however, back on the road by 9:15. 

Knowing full well that it would be one of the most touristy places on earth, we had to see Wall Drug and, since that was the exit for the Badlands anyway, had a look.  Yep; done that, passed on the tee shirt and quickly got back on the road! 

The SD Badlands were fantastic though not nearly as extensive as I'd erroneously assumed.  Truly a moonscape that forced me to stop repeatedly for pictures. 

After that, the rest of the day (and the trip) was just plugging away to get home.  South Dakota, at least the part we saw as we crossed I-90 is largely deserted so we could not find a place for lunch and just snacked on some stuff we had in the back seat.  Our stop for the night was at about 6:30 at the Staybridge Suites in Sioux Falls, SD.  The clerk recommended nearby Foley's.  We both had gorgonzola-encrusted halibut that was incredible along with a nice New Zealand pinot gris.  Bed was at about 10:00

Monday, July 29 - Sioux Falls, SD to Ottawa, IL

Feeling it was time to make tracks for home, we set the alarm for 7:00, had a decent breakfast in the hotel and were on the road by 8:15.  Unfortunately, it had started to rain by the time we got going and intensified considerably.  We took I-29 south to near Sioux City, then US 77 and US 75 into Nebraska.  This had the dual advantages of getting us off the Interstate and allowing me to "check off" Nebraska. Having heard comments like, "I spent a week driving across Nebraska one day.", I was pleasantly surprised at how pretty was the scenery we saw but realize it was but a tiny sample.  Eventually, however, we crossed back to I-29, then I-680 and I-80.  The plan at that point was that we'd be on I-80 until almost home but that would change.  With a quick lunch at Taco John's where the guy behind the counter seemed to really enjoy his job, we stopped for the night in Ottawa, IL.  Dinner was at Monte's Riverside Inn on US 6, a road that passes within a few miles of our home in PA.  We could have probably followed it home but we wouldn't have been home in time for Christmas!  Anyway, the meal at Monte's, while not gourmet, wasn't bad.

Tuesday, July 30, Ottawa, IL to Erie, PA

Having had almost no rain for most of the trip, it was raining again when we awoke at 8:00 and after yet another hotel breakfast we were on the road at about 9:15.  Fortunately, we ran out of the rain about an hour later.  Naturally, the heavy traffic near Chicago was made more interesting by the construction and further construction plagued us for most of the day. 

Having driven across I-80 in Pennsylvania too many times already and being in no rush to get home, I suggested an alternate route zia I-90 and then I-86 across the southern tier of New York.  According to the GPS, it would add only an hour to the trip, add a little variety and allow us a peek at Lake Erie, the only one of the Great Lakes we'd not seen on this trip.  What I didn't give adequate thought to was the fact that we'd pass close to Cleveland at rush hour and, that, of course, those roads would be under construction as well.  As a consequence, we were rather frazzled at 6:30 when we reached the Hampton Inn in Erie, having lost another hour to the time zone.

The desk clerk wasn't the least bit helpful in helping us choose a restaurant so it was more by luck than anything that we chose Smuggler's Wharf at the Bayside.  The place was quite nice though, as the name would imply, not fine dining.  The perch was essentially fish and chips but quite good. 

Wednesday, July 31 - Erie, PA to Home
- Ending odometer reading 49,090

Knowing this was the last day and a relatively short one, we slept in and got on the road late.  We'd heard a lot about wineries in the area so stopped in North East, PA (the town of "North East" not where we live in northeastern PA) to visit some.  We needn't have bothered; they were as unimpressive as their wines and we bought nothing. 

Lunch was at the "Kopper Kup" in Cuba, NY, a quaint little "Main Street USA" operation and we were back in our own town at about 5:30.  Though we knew he'd be at dinner, we made a quick stop to see Dad before we headed off to our own.  The parking lot at the country club was jammed so dinner was at the Blue Shutters.

The Bottom Line

This was a most enjoyable vacation though next time we'll have fewer long days in the car. All in all, we covered about 5,500 miles in 120 hours driving time over 19 days.  We got along famously and had a terrific time.