Week 2 of our North America road trip and we’ve driven 3,836kms so far (that’s 3,056kms this week!). We’ve been to Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming. I’m sure you’ll appreciate how difficult it is summarise a week when we’ve seen so much. From the iconic Route 66 to the superb BBQ meats of Kansas City, and then just yesterday we went to meet the fantastic four at Mount Rushmore before watching wandering Buffalo in the wild. It has been a crazy pace this week and it’s not sustainable, but we’re racing the approaching winter. We want to try get through Calgary and across to Vancouver before it starts snowing. Once we hit the west coast we’ll ease the pace back. In an attempt to make sure I don’t miss anything I think I’ll go for a more structured approach this week. One paragraph for each day.
After 4 nights in Chicago I was itching to hit the road. Don’t get me wrong, we loved Chicago, but we hadn’t driven our beloved BRZ since our arrival and we were heading down Route 66. In our excitement for hitting the road I forgot to pack our waterbottles and Anna only realised when we were an hour into the drive. Considering we’ve come this far without losing anything, I guess a couple of waterbottles is a small loss. The funny thing about the iconic drive from Chicago to St Louis is that you keep going back and forth from the I-55 to Route 66. Old bridges haven’t been maintained, some parts of the road had the I-55 laid on top and other sections are now paddocks. Some would be disappointed by this but I think it added to the adventure because you would go from the ultra modern freeway to a country backroad to visit a tiny country town that only survives on memories of Cadillacs and Elvis. Our first stop was like this. We pulled into a vacant car park to grab a snap of the Gemini Giant which is a statue of the muffler man which was popular in the 60s. The drive-in restaurant has closed down, like many other businesses in town, but everyone stops for a look. Next up was the Palm Grill Cafe in Atlanta for a hotdog and Cherry Pie. This cafe was a time warp in every detail, well except for the pricing, inflation was accounted for. Excellent pie though. We arrived into St Louis late afternoon so we went to see the Gateway Arch and then took a stroll through part of Forest Park. We only had 1 night in St Louis and that was ok with us.
The next morning we hopped into the car ready for another big day churning out the kms, but our first stop was only 15 minutes away. St Charles is a small town just on the other side of the Missouri River from St Louis. Now it’s a cute village based around a cobblestone main street lined with restaurants and stores, but it was the first capitol of Missouri state. Five years later Jefferson City became the capitol and St Charles was forgotten about. We did enjoy the exhibits in the building as we brushed up on some USA history. Speaking of Jefferson City, we headed in that direction next and drove the delightful US-94 which followed the Missouri River. The road snaked and curved its way around rolling hills. Anna was enjoying the drive but after an hour she couldn’t bare my fidgeting any longer. This was the first opportunity we’d had to put the BRZ around some corners and I was itching for the chance. This car is definitely the best handling road car I’ve ever driven and has zero body roll. I wasn’t pushing it or driving recklessly or anything like that, you can just feel how poised the car is on the road. After running out of fun road we hopped on the freeway and headed for the village of Arrow Rock. The whole village is a National Historic Landmark and has been preserved to how it was in the early 1900’s. We arrived at around 3:30pm and everything was still open but only just. The place was pretty dead but I guess that’s largely due to the time of year. We strolled around and looked through some buildings but then made tracks for Kansas City.
They say the best BBQ in America is found in Kansas City. We had 2 nights in KC and we had BBQ both nights. The first night we went to an infamous place called Oklahoma Joe’s which is an institution in KC. The basic looking diner was packed on a Monday night at 8pm. We waited half an hour to get served, but it was totally worth it. We shared a ribs and brisket platter with some sides and devoured the whole thing. Everything was so tasty and the meat was super tender. The next night we went to a place called Gates BBQ which was recommended by our AirBnB host. It was still very good food but it didn’t have the same atmosphere as Joe’s. There are over 100 bbq joints in KC so you can’t really go wrong. With so much driving, we opted for a car free day in KC and walked the length of town. You might think I’m joking, but we walked 42,000 steps that day. That almost beat our trip record. We walked downtown via the WWI War Memorial and Union Station to visit Market City. The markets were open, but no stalls were set up so it didn’t take us long to get going. We then walked to other end of town to the Country Club Plaza which is a small shopping district that dates back to 1923 and is designed to resemble Seville, Spain. It was an appealing design but we can’t really go shopping, so a Starbucks Coffee was all we bought. And yes, only one. We shared a large. So backpacker!
Wednesday morning we headed for Sioux Falls with stops in St Joseph, Omaha and Sioux City. Omaha is known for being the home of Billionaire Warren Buffet so we thought we’d pull in to have a look. There are a few sites to see there like the developed riverfront area and the cobblestone restaurant region downtown, but essentially it’s an American city with no standout identity. We did enjoy the Pioneer statue park which had a series of metal statues portraying the bravery of the pioneers that headed out with stock pulled wagons. We pulled into Sioux City because the Lonely Planet guide mentioned a good overlook over the river. We went to the exact crossroad specified and there was nothing. The B team must’ve been working on that leg. It was a blessing in disguise though, because we decided to pick up a coffee to share from McDonald’s and when we arrived the place was packed with over 80 classic cars. The plan of drive thru was ditched and went for a browse. They were mostly american muscle cars but it was cool to see, especially since it was free. Very random for a Wednesday afternoon though. Didn’t they have work? On our way to Sioux Falls we went along a stretch of freeway that was dead straight for 80kms. It was so strange. They did bump up the speed limit up to 130kph which helped. Upon arriving at Sioux Falls we dumped our bags at the hotel and headed to the falls for some shots. They’re no Niagara Falls, but they were still good to see. For dinner we went to the main street area and came across a bar that was pumping for a weeknight called JL Beers. They were having some promotional night, but it made for an entertaining dinner while we feasted on american style burgers. We may have sampled the lager as well… shhh. Well actually Anna ordered a Pineapple cider that was so sweet that she had my lager and I had the cider. Doesn’t she know I’m already sweet enough.
Our first stop on Thursday was at the World’s Only Corn Palace in Mitchell. I haven’t mentioned it but we’ve driven past lots of corn fields so far in USA, so it only makes sense that they’d create a corn themed attraction. We fully expected it to be cringe but decided to stop anyway. To our surprise it wasn’t that bad. It was essentially an auditorium for concerts which doubled as a gymnasium for the local basketball team, but each year they decorate the outside with corncobs. This year’s theme was Rock of Ages, so the building was covered in murals of music superstars all made of corn. It was actually impressive artwork so we had to eat a little humble pie after we had been trash talking it the whole way there. Our next stop was brought on by the 100 or so highway billboards advertising Wall Drug. We had no idea what it was about but once Anna checked on Google it sounded amazing. Wall Drug is the drug store in a town called Wall. Since its founding in 1930 it has grown to become so much more than a drug store though. Essentially it has become a highway attraction for travellers driving from the east heading for Mount Rushmore. The complex now includes a series of stores covering travel essentials, cowboy wear, souvenirs and of course drugs. But it expands further into a diner, a cafe and a collection of attractions for kids. My favourite was the T-Rex that moved up and down making growling noises – Awesome. The best part was the 5c coffee. At that price we actually had our own cup for a change!
With 2 nights booked in Rapid City we decided to have a slower start yesterday and indulge in a sleep in. We headed off at 10am with our first stop being Mount Rushmore. I had the impression that the carvings of Mount Rushmore were very large, so I was a little surprised when I read that they were only about 20m tall. I think I might have been a little disappointed if I didn’t read it before going, but since I was expecting it, I didn’t really notice. It was cool to see something so iconic. After we took some photos and took a stroll along the presidential trail, we hopped back in the car and headed for the Custer State Park. The drive along Iron Mountain Rd was sublime. This is the ultimate motorbike road so I was in heaven in the BRZ. The road was well engineered, had great surface and all bends were signposted. The perfect place to have a bit of fun. It even had pig tails which are corkscrews that have bridges to complete the spiral as you climb the hill. So much fun. The road was quiet which was a real bonus because I would’ve been in tears if I was following a Winnebago up the twisties. When we arrived at the park we took the Wildlife Loop Rd and found buffaloes, deer and donkeys. It was nice to see them out in the wild roaming through the plains. Some were quite curious of the cars so they would wander over to the fence for a look. We then headed back to the hotel for an intensive blog session.
Today we drove from Rapid City to Riverton in Wyoming. In the 600kms drive we only went through three real towns. I say real because we did drive through one town that had a population of 4 people. I don’t think that really counts. The drive was quite scenic though as we crossed the vacant plains with scattered clouds on the horizon. It reminded me of a a Road Runner cartoon. We’re trying to get to Yellowstone NP before the snow gets there, but the forecast is suggesting that we’ll only get one day in the park before it starts snowing.
Anna has almost finished her monthly video and should have it out in the next couple of days. I’ll include the link next week. We should be in Calgary by then.
Fail of the Week
All week I’ve been talking about taking a selfie at Mount Rushmore so that it looks like our two heads are lined up with the four presidents. I even took a test shot yesterday at the miniature version at Wall Drug. Well today was the big day and I left my camera at the hotel room. Idiot.
Meal of the Week
It has to be Oklahoma Joe’s BBQ in KC. Tender ribs where the meat peels off the bone with spicy bbq sauce. Tender beef brisket thin sliced. Texas toast. Chicken Gumbo. Spicy Slaw. Delicious!