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66 Days to Alaska - Chapter 1

An Exploration of North America by Motorhome Twenty years after the success of our 99 day drive from Houston to Panama, we decided this time, to go north. You're invited to join our adventures here on the blog page. We will start at the beginning. Chapter 1: The Lower 48

May 13. Day 1

We left Houston in good time, at 9:30. I suggested we start at 9 and John planned on 10, so it was a good compromise.

We headed north-east on highway 69 and in about an hour we left Houston suburbs behind and the road subsequently becomes state road 59. We have had plenty of rain lately, in fact we had about four inches at the house a couple of days ago. There were wide swaths of lush green along the roadside illuminated with brilliant flowers of yellow, purple and , with Queen Ann’s lace waving over them.

We are driving at 60-65 mph, except where local jurisdictions require us to slow down. And we switch off driving every 60-90 minutes so neither of us gets tired, and we both get an opportunity to study the view.

The clouds broke up as we headed north and became billowing cumulonimbus by mid afternoon. The infinite shades of green were gradually dominated by the darker tint of the conifers now that we are in north Texas Piney Woods. I think it is flat land all around but I can’t tell for the wall of trees encasing the road.

We are aiming for Little Rock Arkansas tonight. I stayed on the army base there curtesy of the American Red Cross while I took a course on Mass Casualty events and how to serve people under those difficult circumstances. Fortunately, I’ve not had to use that training.

Two things happened as soon as we crossed into Arkansas. First we hit a bear of a traffic jam. All lanes northbound were closed and we were reduced to stop and crawl until google saved us and provided an alternative route. It cost us a whole hour though.

The other change was more pleasant. Instead of tall trees boxing us in all along the freeway, we could enjoy broad vistas of spring fields and herds of cattle. In fact, we watch some cattle walking in a field going faster than the vehicles on the freeway we had left.

We did have a drama when I thought it wise to call 911. Traveling at mock speed, within the speed limit of course, I suddenly spotted a load of large debris in the center of the left travel lane. It was from a car that sat at right angles to the road in the median. We had passed it before I could take a careful look. I dialed 311 to notify the city. Whatever jurisdiction we were in didn’t recognize the call. Thinking that there could be someone injured in the car, needing assistance, I dialed 911. Fortunately they already had responders on their way. I considered someone’s life could have been in danger so I called. It shook me up a bit.

We parked for the night next to a dog park right in the middle of Little Rock, less than a mile from President Clinton’s Library. We could hear the constant rumble of traffic on the I 30, but nothing to annoy us.

The dog appreciated the opportunity to move freely in the dog park after being boxed up in the bus all day. We were heading northeast rather than northwest, so that we could visit family. We stayed with John’s sister Cookie, in Columbus. Then we went to Chicago to visit daughter Tanya, Rob and Iris. We took Iris to the zoo, the beach and a museum where Iris played at camping.

Crossing Minnesota tilled purplish soil surrounded us, but some fields have a green haze proving that summer is coming. The shoots became more substantial reaching for the sunshine, as we headed west. Silver Lake township marked just one of the ten thousand lakes in Minnesota. Little settlements like Caesarville, with a population of 45 interrupted the landscape. Towns were announced by a cemetery two miles out, that was studded with plastic flowers.

Well spaced houses, each with lilac bushes, were walled in by conifers to protect them from the winter winds. Enormous complicated farm equipment waited to be put to work. Lawns cut with precision stretching to the road. Attractive lakes surrounded with reeds and dotted with waterfowl. Circular silver silos standing shining, glistening in the sun, stunted silos standing at the horizon, blending into the smokey sky or weathered rusty ones nestled among farm buildings blending into the earth.

Then there were solar farms cool, hard, dark, and almost menacing in the middle of the gently rolling landscape.

Wind turbines with slowly turning blades silhouette against the sky. Constant wind blowing from south to north. Wind stroking the grasses and turning them silver. Grassy gullies falling into deep cut streams.

As we entered South Dakota there were bumpy rippling hills and cattle pastures, some with gigantic wind turbines as far as the eye can see from horizon to horizon. Closer to the road there were still dozens of pools where egret, ducks and even a white pelican called home, at least for the summer. When we came to a rise we could see twenty miles into a hazy sky where the smoke from Canadian fires that is blurred the horizon.

Then we came to the small community of Wecota, South Dakota where my cousin lives. I took advantage of Sarah’s hair-cutting skills, fed the goats and cut asparagus that was growing along her fence line. It was a pleasant pause in our trail.

The land in North Dakota was not much other than flat. I pulled to a stop at an intersection to change drivers. There was one never ending road that intersected another that stretched from horizon to horizon. Suddenly a lady appeared at the window. She wanted to know if we needed help. Very kind. John started chatting with her and she introduced herself as a First Nation and that her grandfather was a famous chief. Then she told us about a Pow Wow that

was going to be held that afternoon. I really didn’t know what a Pow Wow entailed but I was determined to find out.

Just across the Missouri River from New Town was the small community of Four Bears, dominated by a large Casino. We were directed to a multipurpose building and the sports arena inside. It was early, but gradually people entered carrying a variety of colorful clothes and lots of feathers. It built to a crescendo of color action and drums.

The tribes entered the floor of the arena as they were called, one at a time and danced to the drums in circles of decreasing in size as the next group entered.

The Pow Wow as actually a competition. One criteria was to know the music and stop dancing on the last drum beat. I couldn’t tell one tune from another let alone when it was about to stop.

Some people walked more than danced and some had their little children along.

Other tribal members were on the floor dancing energetically. Some were in the stands trimming their regalia and getting ready to join those already on the floor. There were a few people who were only watching from stands.

There were four groups drummers and singers, taking turns to keep the those on the floor moving. They had their own audience crowded round. They took it in turn to perform and took requests but to my untrained ear all the tunes sounded the same.

Everyone I met was super friendly and happy to ask my questions. I think we were the only pale-faces there. That night we found Creelman Evergreen Park, a campsite that wasn’t mentioned on any of our references but was a formal place for “fully self-contained vehicles.” It even had power available. I took a picture of the entrance sign as we left the next morning and read it as we drove off. Oops! Although it said it was free for the first night, they did charge for power and we were meant to have pay at the local post office. We were long past. Sorry.

While I was enjoying a dramatic sunset a fox trotted by. As I sat there the dandelions slowly closed while the sun lit up the sky and sank below the horizon. In the morning the dandelions were back and smiling sunshine towards the sky.

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