Mitch's Blog 7.0

Mitch's Blog


Thursday, August 17, 2006

2006 Vacation: Day 9 Summary

Day 9 Summary
Sioux Falls, South Dakota to Brainerd, Minnesota
Monday, July 24, 2006

I had been to Sioux Falls a few times before, but I had never gotten the chance to explore some of the sights downtown. So, this time when I was in town, I made sure to go to Falls Park, home of the gaunt Big Sioux River and the waterfalls that put the “falls” in Sioux Falls.

The city has built an observation tower in the park that overlooks the waterfalls and the downtown area. The view from the top was nice, but because the park is set in the valley of the river, it’s not possible to see much of the outlaying city or countryside.

After spending some time at the observation tower and then walking along the trails that meander along the river, it was time to get out of Sioux Falls. Rather than taking Interstate 90 into Minnesota, I wanted to go an alternate way that led to the tri-state border of South Dakota, Iowa, and Minnesota.

The border, which is only one of a few tri-state borders in the country that is located entirely on land, can be found about 10 miles east of Sioux Falls. It’s easily accessed by using paved farm roads that go through rural countryside.

To the northwest, nearly 30 yards away from the spot on the roadway where the three states converge is a small parking area and marker designating the tri-state border. Although the marker is now located entirely within South Dakota, it was once cemented to the middle of the roadway. After somebody ran into it in the 1980s, however, it was moved away from the road and to its current location.

After spending some time at the border, I made my way to Hills, the southwestern-most city in Minnesota. From there, my unconventional route led north to Pipestone, east to Slayton, southeast to Windom, and then north to Redwood Falls. The reason I went the way I did was so that I could see Murray, Cottonwood, and Redwood Counties – three of the six Minnesota counties that I had not yet visited.

Since I had the chance to see those three counties, however, there now remains only three counties in the entire state that I have not been to – Le Sueur, Blue Earth, and Faribault. Hopefully, I can make it down to these final three sometime next summer so that I can finally say that I’ve been to all of Minnesota’s 87 counties.

From Redwood Falls, U.S. Highway 71 took me into Willmar. From there, it was easy to get on Minnesota Highway 23 heading toward St. Cloud. And, of course, from St. Cloud, it wasn’t too hard to get back home to Brainerd to end my 2006 vacation.


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The reflective water in Covell Lake in Sioux Fall's Terrace Park

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A duck enjoying a leisurely swim in Covell Lake

The following three photos are from the Shoto-Teien Japanese Gardens, which are located inside Terrace Park
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The soothing cascading waterfall in the Japanese Gardens

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Here's the view of the waterfalls and downtown from the observation tower in Falls Park

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A closeup of one of the smaller waterfalls in Falls Park

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Here's the road that leads to the tri-state border - to the left of the road is South Dakota and to the right is Iowa

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The tri-state border marker

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This road forms the border of South Dakota and Minnesota - SD is on the left and MN is on the right

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Here's a picture of where on the road the three states meet up

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The road through Windom

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In an example of how "German" the city of Sanborn is, one of the bussinesses in town is "Deutschland Meats"

Low-grade camcorder pictures:

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A typical elm-lined street of Hills

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This gas station in Hills was one of the few places I saw during my vacation selling gas for more than $3.00 per gallon


Tri-State Border

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

2006 Vacation: Day 8 Summary

Day 8 Summary
Grand Island, Nebraska to Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Sunday, July 23, 2006

Grand Island reminded me a lot of another "grand" city I know – Grand Forks. Both cities are quite comparable in size, and both are set amidst a highly productive agricultural region that nevertheless offers little in the way of majestic scenery. Likewise, Grand Island's residential areas were also much like Grand Forks', in that quiet neighborhood streets lined with sidewalks and soaring shade trees led to what looked to be well-kept houses and yards. The only real difference between Grand Island and Grand Forks that I could spot was near downtown Grand Island, where most of the signs on the storefronts were either bilingual or written entirely in Spanish. Unlike Grand Forks, Grand Island – and a lot of eastern Nebraska, as I would later find out – has a sizable Hispanic population.

One tangible object that I hope will make me remember my visit to Grand Island is a white pine that I found on sale at the city’s Home Depot. Since I have sort of been looking to get a white pine for a while to complete the collection of evergreen trees I inadvertently started in my backyard a couple years ago, I thought I was pretty lucky to just happen to spot one for sale 430 miles away in Nebraska.

After buying the tree and spending some more time poking around Grand Island, it was time to get on U.S. Highway 30 to head to Columbus, another one of the larger cities in eastern Nebraska (population 20,971).

U.S. Highway 81 was the road that took me out of Columbus and to Norfolk, the home of Johnny Carson and another large eastern Nebraska city (population 23,946). After Norfolk, the countryside turns much more rural. It also becomes a little hillier, as there is no river valley in the area that has worked to flatten the terrain.

About 60 miles north of Norfolk, the road finally passes into the tall bluffs that surround the Missouri River, which happens to form the border of Nebraska and South Dakota.

Situated right next to the river (and the border), Yankton is the first South Dakota city that U.S. Highway 81 passes through. Arriving in the city via 81 is a little interesting, as the bridge that crosses the Missouri appeared to be a former one-lane bridge that was turned into two-lanes by making it a double-decker and placing the southbound lane of traffic directly above the northbound.

Yankton seemed like a great city with numerous parks and green areas. I especially would have liked to explore this one park I spotted that had numerous ducks and geese swimming around what looked like a man-made creek, but I chose to limit outdoor activities because the temperature at the time was hovering around a blistering 102°F.

As I was traveling the 25 miles on South Dakota Highway 50 between Yankton and Vermillion, some sort of front passed through. The sky turned cloudy, and it cooled off to about 93°F, just a comfortable enough temperature to enjoy a bit of a walk around the University of South Dakota campus by the time I got to Vermillion.

USD’s campus sure had some interesting, old buildings, most of them undoubtedly dating back to at least the early 20th century. I also enjoyed the many birds and squirrels that seemed to come up and greet me while walking around the main part of campus. Not surprisingly, there were more animals than people hanging around campus on what was an extremely quiet Sunday evening in July.

I actually really liked the city of Vermillion, too. It’s got the feeling of being an old town along the bluffs of the Missouri steeped in a rich history. And with a population of 9,765 (only slightly larger than the full-time enrollment at the university), the city would likely be a cozy place to go to school.

From Vermillion, it’s an easy 50 mile drive to the most populous city in South Dakota: Sioux Falls. That’s where I ended up on day 8 of my vacation.


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Typical scenery along U.S. Highway 30 east of Grand Island

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The park in the middle of downtown Columbus included this mounument dedicated to veterans of the Civil War

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Columbus also had this neat sundial that is actually on top of a time capsule to be opened in 2036

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I got a kick out of these signs all over Columbus that implied trespassing in the city is acceptable at all times but between 3am and 6am

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The road north of Norfolk

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The Missouri River in Yankton - that's all Nebraska off in the distance

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The double-decker bridge that goes over the border of South Dakota and Nebraska

The following seven photos were taken on the University of South Dakota campus
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The Shakespeare Garden - the fountain says "class of 1924"

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I enjoyed this tile mural above the back door to the chemistry building

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The modern looking administration building

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Old Main...

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...and East Hall are two examples of the gorgeous old buildings on campus

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A mourning dove takes a stroll down one of the sidewalks

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I loved this cacti garden - I wonder if somebody plants something like this every year

Low-grade camcorder pictures:

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Nebraska is one of those states that uses horizontal stop lights

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Welcome to South Dakota - this sign is located a few hundred feet into Nebraska

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The double-decker bridge that crosses the Missouri into Yankton


Along the Missouri River

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

2006 Vacation: Day 7 Summary

Day 7 Summary
Scottsbluff, Nebraska to Grand Island, Nebraska
Saturday, July 22, 2006

The most well-known attraction in Scottsbluff is a bluff just to the south of town that was one of the most recognizable landmarks to those traveling west on Oregon Trail. The bluff as well as the surrounding countryside has been preserved for all to see at Scotts Bluff National Monument. I must admit, time constraints did not allow me to go to the monument and enjoy the view from the top. Nevertheless, I did get some good pictures from the outskirts of Scottsbluff.

Incidentally, Scott’s Bluff is only one of many bluff and rock formations along the North Platte River in the panhandle of Nebraska. Another landmark that emigrants on the Oregon Trail easily recognized was Chimney Rock, which is about 20 miles east of Scott’s Bluff. Even though Chimney Rock was another place I regrettably did not have time to visit, I was able to see it from over 8 miles away on U.S. Highway 26.

The quickest way to get from Scottsbluff to Grand Island is to take a combination of U.S. Highway 26 and Interstate 80. Even so, that wasn’t the route I chose. Instead, I got on U.S. Highway 385 near the town of Angora. 25 miles up the road in Alliance, I headed off onto Nebraska Highway 2 so that I could take the long way into Grand Island.

One thing I did stop to see near Alliance, however, was Carhenge, one of those quirky pieces of roadside Americana. It’s a replica of the well-known Stonehenge in England with the only difference being that it’s made up of old cars painted grey to match the corresponding stones 4,500 miles away. If you are ever in the Alliance area, Carhenge is definitely something you should go see. The place seemed pretty busy; there’s even construction underway on a visitor’s center.

Getting back to what I was saying, the reason I opted to take the longer way into Grand Island is because I wanted to travel through one of the least populated places in the United States: the sand hills of Nebraska.

The sand hills lie in a 24,000 square foot area bounded roughly by the Nebraska-South Dakota border, U.S. Highway 183, U.S. Highway 385, and Interstate 80. Quite expectedly, the sand hills are gentle, rolling hills composed of sand. It’s important to note, however, that the sand is highly infertile; few trees or any tall vegetation can grow naturally. Farming is completely out of the question. About the only commodity the sand hills can produce is potash for fertilizers. Even so, extracting what little potash is available is quite expensive. As a sign near Antioch stated, the only time the United States has turned to the sand hills for potash requirements was during World War II when non-domestic sources of the salts rose in price.

So, since the land doesn’t provide much in the way of viable natural resources, it’s easy to see why the sand hills were largely overlooked during settlement of the American west. Even so, you can’t make the claim that nobody lives in the region. Quite a few small towns – with populations of a couple hundred each – dot the 180 mile or so stretch of Highway 2 that passes through the sand hills. One of the towns along the road, Mullen, gets the distinction of being one of the only cities in the country that is a county unto itself. Mullen is the county seat of Hooker County. However, It just so happens that Mullen is the only city in Hooker County. What’s more, Hooker County only has a population of 783, and 491 of those people are residents of Mullen.

Another example of the desolateness of the sand hills is seen when a traveler in the region searches for radio stations on the FM dial. Once the road passes the nearly-forgotten town of Ashby, it’s only possible to clearly pick up one FM radio station: a public radio affiliate that, by and large, plays nothing but classical music.

An ironic aspect of Highway 2 is that I saw more out-of-state license plates than Nebraska license plates along the stretch that leads through the sand hills. The area does seem to get a fair amount of tourist traffic through it. Like me, a lot of people probably like the area’s remoteness.

Without warning, the sand hills end near the town of Anselmo. The land reverts back to one that can sustain trees and agriculture. Suddenly, the countryside looks more like Nebraska, with field upon field of corn right alongside the road.

After another small town, Merna, Highway 2 comes up to Broken Bow, which, after spending all day in the sand hills, seems like a bustling metropolis. With a population of 3,491, Broken Bow is the only city with a population over 1,500 in the 274 miles of Highway 2 that separate Alliance from Grand Island.

From Broken Bow, Grand Island is still another 80 miles away. There are a few small towns – like Mason City, Litchfield, Hazard, and Ravenna – along the way, but there’s not much to say about any of them. Instead, it’s easier just to say that Grand Island was where day 7 of my vacation concluded.


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An overview of the bluffs south of Scottsbluff - Scott's Bluff is the tall bluff on the left

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A closeup of Scott's Bluff

The following four photos were taken at Carhenge - I have provided captions where neccesary
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This is a second section off to the side of Carhenge filled with random old cars that didn't get included in the main exhibit

The following five photos depict typical scenery within the sand hills - I have provided captions where neccesary
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There are a few natural lakes and streams within the sand hills, as illustrated in this picture taken near the town of Lakeside

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Low-grade camcorder pictures:

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Another scene of some typical sand hills scenery - there's nobody else on the road in this shot either

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The road enters the Central Time Zone between Mullen and Seneca


Sorry, no video from this day

Monday, August 14, 2006

2006 Vacation: Day 6 Summary

Day 6 Summary
Casper, Wyoming to Scottsbluff, Nebraska
Friday, July 21, 2006

So long as you don't mind the city’s isolation, Casper seemed like it would be a real nice place to live. It’s set in the fertile valley of the North Platte River and enjoys a view of mountains to the south. The city seemed clean, had all of the basic amenities that would suit most people, and is currently enjoying a booming economy thanks to the oil wells and coal mines in the surrounding area.

The only cities of significance within 60 miles of Casper are Glenrock and Douglas, both found to the east along Interstate 25. Douglas is probably best known as being the city that hosts the annual Wyoming State Fair and Rodeo.

A little south of Glenrock is the Ayres Natural Bridge, one of the only rock-carved natural bridges in the country that has water running underneath. Even though it was extremely difficult to reach before a paved road was built leading to it, the natural bridge was visited by a few noted explorers during the 19th century. Even some of those who traveled along the nearby Oregon Trail fought their way through the hilly countryside in the vicinity of the bridge in order to catch a glimpse.

East of Douglas, the landscape fills up with deep canyons slowly created by the North Platte River. Amid the canyons are two large lakes quickly created after dams were placed on the river during the 20th century. The land surrounding both of the lakes has been turned into state parks so that people may enjoy lakeside camping, fishing, and swimming.

I got a chance to enjoy the scenery in the Guernsey State Park, which, appropriately enough, is the home of Lake Guernsey. Although there were a couple of other people out and about, for the most part, the park was a dead place on the Friday I visited. The water level in Lake Guernsey is exceedingly low this year, and because of that, nobody was on the beach, nobody was swimming, and nobody was camping. I pretty much had the entire park to myself.

East of the park, U.S. Highway 26 passes through the valley of the meandering North Platte River. The countryside ceases looking like Wyoming here and looks more like the Midwest. The land is relatively flat – with no mountains or hills to be seen in the background – and a few farm fields are spread out on either side of the road.

The last Wyoming city the road passes through is Torrington. 8 miles east of there is the Nebraska border and the small Nebraska town of Henry.

The next small towns the road passes through are Morill and Mitchell. After that, the road comes up to the twin cities of Scottsbluff and Gering. With a combined population of 22,483, these two cities are the most populous in the Nebraska panhandle. Scottsbluff is where I stayed overnight during day 6 of my vacation.


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The view from my hotel room in Casper included mountains and some sort of Welcome to Casper monument

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On proud display above the Perkin's restaurant in Casper was this huge flag

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The best picture I could get of the natural bridge - the creek that flows underneath is called LaPrele Creek

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This steep cliff can be seen if you climb a trail that leads to the top of the bridge

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Also visible from the top of the bridge is this scene, which shows a landscape of sagebrush turning into a landscape of trees and lushness

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Lake Glendo near the city of the same name

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Another view of Lake Glendo

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Some roadside scenery between Glendo and Guernsey

The following six photos were taken in Guernsey State Park
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The shores of Lake Guernsey

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There are a couple of rail tunnels located within the park

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During an ordinary summer, most of the sandy beach in this picture would be covered by water

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A westbound empty coal train takes the siding at East Stokes as it passes through what was once a massive tunnel - the railroad demolished the tunnel and created the trench in 1998 in order to lengthen the siding

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A lonely picnic table usually located along the shore of Lake Guernsey

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Although sandy and rocky, the soil within Guernsey State Park supports evergreen trees, as this photo illustrates

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A typical banner on the streelights in Mitchell

Low-grade camcorder picture:

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Nebraska...the good life


Lake Guernsey

Previous Posts

Four Years Have Passed
Winter of 2007-08 Musings
7th Annual Top 10 Super Bowl Commercials
Another Birthday
A Beltated Update
2007 Vacation: Day 10 Summary
2007 Vacation: Day 9 Summary
2007 Vacation: Day 8 Summary
2007 Vacation: Day 7 Summary
2007 Vacation: Day 6 Summary


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Mitch's Blog began on December 23, 2001