Oregon-bound weather and wayfinding
On May 28, the day I set sail on the SS Badger across Lake Michigan, the SPC issued another enhanced risk for severe weather, including tornadoes, along the Missouri and Iowa border, as well as parts of Kansas, Nebraska, and Illinois. Several tornadoes were reported throughout Kansas, including a large EF4 tornado that touched down in Lawrence, 35 miles west of Kansas City, injuring 18 people. But I was safe on board the SS Badger ship.
Karri, Dan, and I were right: the ferry ride steered me away from severe weather and gave me another unique experience.
Unfortunately, Dixie was not permitted in the passenger parts of the ship, so she had to stay in the car in the cargo area. That was an exercise in trust on both our parts – and bravery on hers.
Standing at the stern of the SS Badger as we departed from Ludington, Michigan, I waved goodbye to Michigan, with a shoutout to my sister-in-law’s friends and family. Nancy, my twin sister’s wife, is from Michigan. We like to joke that if a Buckeye and a Wolverine can make a successful go of it, there’s hope for everyone!
I was mesmerized by the frothy, churning water created by the action of the ship’s propulsion system.
Walking the deck in the cold, wind, and rain, I enjoyed the expansive views of Lake Michigan, the external features of the ship, and all the wonder of a Great Lake cruise.
In the comfortable shelter of the SS Badger, I explored all its trappings: I treated myself to a private stateroom, enjoyed a meal and snacks, played bingo (winning two games and prizes), browsed the ship’s gift shop, and took a 30-minute nap, sleeping soundly through the choppiest part of the ride. When I awoke, I thought of Dixie and hoped she was sound asleep in her basket in the vehicle cargo area.
When we docked at Manitowoc, Wisconsin, I stood on deck and watched from above as crews drove the vehicles they had ferried across Lake Michigan off the ship. As soon as I saw Sialia Mountain Bluebird Subaru Crosstrek, I raced down the steps and loading dock to see Dixie, more relieved than I have words to describe that she was fine in her basket. I loved her up, gave her some treats, and together we took a stroll on the concrete walkway near the loading dock, surrounded by surf crashing against the land and rock wall.
Dixie and I were over the moon, and Lake Michigan was nearly over the bank. I learned it was approaching record water levels that day, increasing the potential for lakeshore flooding.
We got back in the Subaru, ready for the adventure home, Cheryl and Dixie Road Dogs: Oregon Bound.
After disembarking the SS Badger, docked on the Wisconsin shore of Lake Michigan in the early afternoon of May 28, Dixie and I continued our road trip, now headed back to our home in Oregon. I had no interest in racing home. My goal was to be home by June 1, giving myself a couple days for re-entry before going back to work on June 3, so I knew I had time to explore. Therefore, my route home to Oregon included the same combination of interstate highways and scenic byways as my route home to Ohio, just different ones.
The route home to Ohio and Michigan had been a central route across eastern Oregon, southern Idaho, northern Utah, southern Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana, then into Ohio, and finally up to Michigan. The route back to Oregon would be a northern route across Lake Michigan to Wisconsin; across Wisconsin, Minnesota, southern North Dakota, Montana, and northern Idaho; then into Washington, crossing the Columbia River down into Oregon.
After getting our land legs back, we stopped in Wisconsin at Marieke Gouda and Penterman Farm. I toured the dairy farm, gift shop, and café and sampled their cheese.
Dixie was not allowed on the farm due to agricultural permits, so I opted not to have a picnic there and instead bought some Honey Clover and Mustard Melange Gouda cheese for dinner later.
We spent the night in Monticello, Minnesota. The next day, May 29, I drove Interstate 94 pretty hard across Minnesota, opting not to stop at each of the 10,000 lakes (one of Minnesota’s nicknames is “the Land of 10,000 Lakes”).
I did stop for a walk in Alexandria Woods and enjoyed the slice of banana cream pie I had saved from Charlie’s Diner that morning.
Before crossing into North Dakota, I stopped in Rothsay, “Prairie Chicken Capital of Minnesota,” because I spotted the giant statue of a prairie chicken from Interstate 94 and had to get a closeup.
Standing 13 by 18 feet and weighing 8,000 pounds, the “Booming Prairie Chicken” statue told the prairie chicken’s story:
Prairie chickens moved ahead of the settlers to inhabit the prairies of Minnesota. A large concentration of this protected bird can still be seen on prairie meadows of the Rothsay area. In the early spring, the male prairie chicken performs his mating ritual called “booming.” He spreads his wings and tail feathers, inflates the orange wind sacs, and struts while making the booming sound.
There is much beauty to be found on the native prairie grasslands.
Except for bison sightings outside Jamestown, the drive through North Dakota oil fields was uninspiring until, like a rough rider long on the prairie, I saw water in the distance and rode to it. As I got closer, I could see that the white specks on the water were hundreds of white pelicans and sandhill cranes and figured the lake must be on a migration path. This was outside New Salem, North Dakota.
I found a rutted, ruddy dirt road and followed it through grassy knolls to Sweetbriar Lake. Rolling down the window, I could smell the sweetgrass and hear the song of red-winged blackbirds, the grunt of white pelicans, and the bugle of sandhill cranes. Pine trees lined the landscape and dotted it here and there.
What a great find for a place to stop, have a picnic, hunt for rocks, study the colors and patterns of lakeside boulders, watch birds, enjoy the peace and quiet of the prairie, take a leisurely walk in the grass, and remember my South Dakota friends. I followed the dirt and gravel road along the west side of the lake to access the shoreline.
Located 20 miles west of Mandan on Interstate 94, Sweetbriar Lake covers 200 acres and is 40 feet deep. The lake is open for fishing, boating, and camping. Just like the North Chain of Lakes our family fished in Coldwater, Michigan, Sweetbriar is one of the most popular fishing spots in North Dakota. It even has a similar variety of fish available, including bass, pike, walleye, yellow perch, crappie, and bluegill.
Besides the obvious boulders and large rocks, there were perfect pocket rocks to be found and I added a few to my collection.
Slowly driving the dirt road out of the area, I stopped to watch Sun set, sad that severe weather in South Dakota would again prevent me from visiting.
I checked into Trapper’s Inn in Belfield, North Dakota, where the receptionist gave me a coupon to enjoy two drinks in Trapper’s Lounge after having a good dinner of local grub in Trapper’s Kettle. The barkeep poured me a finger of North Dakota Sweet Crude, a liqueur that tasted like Fireball, except spicier. I also had a couple sips of rye whiskey in memory of Miya, who introduced me to it more than 30 years ago on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.
When I checked out after a good trapper breakfast in the morning, on May 30, I read this note displayed on the welcome counter:
To Our Guests:
In ancient times there was a prayer for “The Stranger within our gates.”
Because this hotel is a human institution to serve people, and not solely a money-making organization, we hope that God will grant you peace and rest while you are under our roof. May this room and hotel be your “second” home. May those you love be near you in thoughts and dreams. Even though we may not get to know you, we hope that you will be comfortable and happy as if you were in your own house. May the business that brought you our way prosper. May every call you make and every message you receive add to your joy. When you leave, may your journey be safe. We are all travelers. From “birth till death” we travel between the eternities. May these days be pleasant for you, profitable for society, helpful for those you meet, and a joy to those who know and love you best.
I appreciated the blessing and felt grateful that that is how I was treated all across the country.
Studying my road atlas that morning, May 30, I decided to visit the North Dakota Badlands and drive the two-to-three-hour scenic loop through Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the only American national park named directly after an individual. Named for U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, the park comprises three geographically separated areas of western North Dakota Badlands, including an area called Theodore Roosevelt National Memorial Park (established in 1947), the only National Memorial Park ever established. Roosevelt’s work on conservation policies as President from 1901 to 1909 earned him these honors.
Although I didn’t make it to the South Dakota Badlands and Black Hills, touring the North Dakota Badlands was a beautiful alternative. While they are not as dramatic as the sheer cliffs of the South Dakota Badlands, they do have some similar characteristics – rolling grasslands, sagebrush, pine trees, wildflowers, and jagged rock formations. I recognized the spring wildflowers of prairie goldenpea, prairie turnip, prairie rose, and phlox.
On this warm, breezy day in May, Sun brought out shifting colors of the buttes, knobs, ridges, mesas, and other outcroppings of minerals and rocks. I saw shades of black, gray, purple, green, yellow, orange, and red. As the light changed throughout the morning, the Badlands took on eerie shapes with their colorful layers and brick-like masses of baked and fused clay, shale, and sandstone that characterized the landscape. There were moments when I heard movement, but it didn’t sound like a rockslide, more like a cap popping off a bottle or a container collapsing.
As a Park Ranger explained to me, the stillness of the place is a disguise. Hard, infrequent rains attack the loosely cemented clays and sandstones, gouging new gullies and carrying off as much as two to four inches of surface each year from the steep, unprotected slopes. The ranger said that the future of this land will be smooth and rounded. The river cutting through soft rock, the deep smoldering coal veins burning lignite, and the sudden rain pouring down – these phenomena all re-shape the land. It was interesting to learn more about the place, and Dixie received her Bark Ranger tag as a reward.
The landscape along the Scenic Loop Drive varied from very flat to rolling to sheer, and ranged from arid Badland areas to the meandering Little Missouri River, which traverses the entire park. On the short trails I walked, I watched prairie dogs playing at their burrows, saw hawks flying overhead, spotted bison grazing in the distance, found deposits of bison dung or chips on the prairie soil, and admired wild mustangs grazing on a hillside. There were a million fascinating shapes, colors, and smells.
It was a special day, a healing day. It lifted my spirits so much that Dixie and I ventured into Old Dacotah Territories Stores in Medora and I bought myself a pair of western boots. I finally felt okay about not making it to South Dakota.
The drive out of North Dakota was beautiful and followed the Northern Pacific Railway of the transcontinental rail line. The landscape changed dramatically leaving North Dakota and entering the “Big Sky Country” of Montana.
I found Yellowstone River, where Dixie and I picnicked and watched another train go by. Although I would have liked to have seen Yellowstone National Park again (our family was there when I was a teenager), I didn’t have enough time for that scenic drive.
Like the Northern Pacific Railway train we watched roll by, Dixie and I followed the river and Interstate 90 to Missoula.
Thanks to virtual Road Dog Kristen, I had a charming and inspirational visit in the old railroad and mining town of Alberton in Mineral County, Montana, where I visited her grandparents’ home and snapped a few photos for her scrapbook.
In River’s Edge Steakhouse on the Clark Fork River, I enjoyed a slice of huckleberry cheesecake and a cup of coffee. Seated at the bar, I met Ron, a woodsman, miner, philosopher, reader, and poet. Woodsman Ron lives in a remote area off the grid. With friendly ease, we talked about our lives, what brought us to the river that day, and our destinations. He told me he generates his own power, has no cell phone, mines for minerals, and reads a lot. Further, he talked about the river he loves.
The Clark Fork River is a major tributary of the Columbia River. In the 19th century, the Clark Fork Valley was inhabited by the Flathead Indians and was explored by Meriwether Lewis of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. During their 1806 return trip from the Pacific Ocean, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark separated their expedition into two parties in Idaho to explore the country more thoroughly. Lewis and his party explored the river he then named for William Clark, the Clark Fork River.
Until the early 1850s, the main activity along the river focused on bison hunting and some trapping. In 1852, white settlers discovered gold within about 50 miles of where Dixie and I stopped in Alberton, Montana. Settlers rapidly moved into the area, cattle replaced bison, mining became a serious business, and logging and lumber processing cleared the forests. These combined interests polluted the river, groundwater, soil, and surrounding hills and forests. Conservation efforts today are working to clean up and protect the river and forests, restoring them to their natural beauty and making the area a healthy habitat for fish and wildlife.
Ron took an interest in my trip, I took an interest in him, and we had a thoughtful, personal conversation. After our visit, I jotted down these notes of what he had said to me:
You are on your own personal expedition of life. You earned it. I hope you’re journaling, because it’s important that you record your purpose and your discovery….
Your gray hairs are winter kill. Let go your worry. It is just condition, response, habit. It matters only what you do now….
I’ve spent 50 years watching this river. It’s been through a lot and it teaches me. I wish there were a curriculum for all of us on this journey, but life’s just not that way. Enjoy your adventure.
– Notes from a conversation with Ron, River’s Edge Steakhouse in Alberton, Montana, May 31, 2019
It might have disappointed Woodsman Ron to learn that my most detailed journal notes were about weather, place, and history. I was more present than reflective for most of the trip. I would reflect later. If I knew how to reach him now, I’d send him all parts of this road trip reflection. Perhaps I’ll call the River’s Edge Steakhouse and ask if they might leave a word for him.
I have a good photo of Ron and me together, but, as with all the photos I selected to share in this road trip reflection, I avoided photos showing human faces and instead included photos showing profiles. I wanted to avoid facial recognition scammers and protect people’s privacy in a public blog space.
Ron and I wished each other well, and Dixie and I explored the River Trail along Clark Fork River. She found another picnic table she had to jump on to take in the sights, and we both got our boots wet on the rocky riverbank at Natural Pier Bridge, a bridge that was built into a massive rocky outcrop in the river, a natural pier.
A large informational sign, overgrown with tall grasses, told the story of the Natural Pier Bridge. Built in 1917, the one-lane bridge was once part of the Yellowstone Trail, the first transcontinental automobile highway through the upper tier of the United States. The Yellowstone auto trail ran from the Atlantic Ocean in Plymouth, Massachusetts, through the state of Montana, to the Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, and to the Pacific Ocean in Seattle, Washington.
Early in its development, the auto trail traversed Montana from Lookout Pass to the South Dakota border in southeastern Montana. Before the advent of numeric signs and highway designations, the route was identified with yellow bands painted around trees and telephone poles, yellow arrows painted on barns, and yellow paint on rock piles.
We continued on Interstate 90 out of Montana into Idaho, staying behind storms as the big sky put on quite a show for many miles and storm clouds moved over and ahead of us.
May 31 was a beautiful day in northern Idaho, so I exited the interstate to drive a scenic byway around Lake Coeur d’Alene, an approximately 35-mile loop with connections to wildlife viewing areas. The sign “Mineral Ridge Scenic Area” got my attention, so I pulled into the turnout and read about the 3.3-mile loop hike above the lake. My first thought was, “Oh, Dixie deserves this.” I wanted to do the hike for her even more than for myself.
It was another highlight of the trip. The invigorating uphill hike, with gradual switchbacks to the top of Mineral Ridge, rewarded us with stunning views over Beauty Bay and Wolf Lodge Bay of Lake Coeur d’Alene. Spring wildflowers lined the soft trail, and beautiful Ponderosa Pine trees offered shade on the hot, sunny day. The quiet solitude of the pre-season gave us surprise encounters with Butterfly, Deer, Bald Eagle, and other birds in Coeur d’Alene National Forest.
We made it to the top of Mineral Ridge, where an inviting bench looked out over Beauty Bay. After resting there a bit, we walked up to Caribou Cabin, where we shared an apple and took in the beauty of the lake before heading down the rockier part of the trail. It was a good workout for someone who had spent most of the past two weeks sitting in a car and eating a lot of pie!
The remaining miles of Lake Coeur d’Alene Scenic Byway were lovely. I stopped for a meal of flatbread, Sprite, and huckleberry ice cream at Hutton’s General Store on the byway and picnicked by the lake. The popular migration stop for bald eagles gifted us with three sightings of the striking birds – one flying over Mineral Ridge, one standing on a log in the lake, and another perched in a tree by the lake. In the wildlife viewing areas, we saw a variety of other birds and more deer.
In the city of Moses Lake, Washington, the night of May 31, when I told Dixie it would be the last motel room for a while, that we would sleep at home tomorrow night, she rolled over on the bed, cooed, squealed, wagged her tail, and kept rolling over, again and again, thumping her tail on the bed, happy as can be. I was so proud of how she handled staying in a new place every night on the road.
Driving Interstate 84 west on June 1, the last day of our road trip, I stopped at SAGE Visitor Center (Sustainable AGriculture and Engineering) in Boardman, Oregon, because their sign said they served Tillamook Ice Cream. Everything Tillamook in Oregon is a treat!
We continued on to familiar places close to home, including Memaloose State Park in the Columbia River Gorge and Bridge of the Gods in Cascade Locks, Oregon. Following the Columbia River home to Portland was pleasant under a blue sky. We found our condominium in safe and sound condition and our balcony garden thriving, thanks to friends at home who looked after everything. We were glad to be home.
I unpacked treasures (some of which are pictured below) and put them in places of honor in our home. I cleaned, sunned, and smudged the 40 rocks I had picked up from places we visited across the country, plus pocket rocks I had carried with me there and back, and put them in mason jars, vases, buckets, and other special places. Then I wanted to rest, but Dixie was eager to check all her trap lines in Summerplace and Glenwood Place and let everyone know she was back in town.
I purchased a souvenir magnet from each state I drove through; I brought the South Dakota magnet home in February 2019.
Curious about the weather back across parts of the country I had traveled, I checked NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center (SPC) website. According to the SPC, the final confirmed tornado total from the May 17-29, 2019, outbreak sequence was 301, including 48 strong tornadoes and two violent tornadoes. Tornadoes were confirmed in 23 different states.
On May 29, the U.S. had its 13th consecutive day with at least eight tornadoes, which broke the previous record of 11 consecutive days set in 1980. By May 29, when the record was broken, the U.S. had an average of 27.5 tornadoes per day during the outbreak. Only three days during this period did not have an EF3 tornado or stronger. An additional two tornadoes were reported on May 30, after the streak officially ended.
I began my road trip on May 17, the first day of the tornado outbreak sequence, and ended my road trip on June 1, after the outbreak officially ended. It was a grand adventure, full of purpose and discovery, challenge and ease, memories old and new, beauty and wonder, kindness and generosity, love and gratitude. I’m glad I did it. Dixie, too.
This road trip reflection includes and continues with the following:
- Road Trip 2019 Part I: Follow the rivers and red-rutted roads
- Road Trip 2019 Part II: Ohio-bound weather and wayfinding
- Road Trip 2019 Part III: Oregon-bound weather and wayfinding
- Road Trip 2019 Part IV: Going home again
- Road Trip 2019 Part V: Purpose and discovery
- Road Trip 2019 Part VI: A log on rivers and lakes
Composed in December 2019 and early January 2020 – seven months after my dog Dixie and I took a road trip in mid-to-late-May across the United States from Oregon to Ohio and back. I visited the childhood home where I grew up and had not seen in 40 years. Photos by me, except where noted.