Life on the Road '89

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I call this trip “Life on the Road” for a very simple reason; at the time, I didn't have any other home! What? you say. Was I homeless or something? No, I wasn't. What actually happened was that I was heading up to North Dakota to spend the summer in Grand Forks studying Linguistics with SIL, after which I would head down to Dallas for the fall session there. Now the summer session in Grand Forks did not begin until the 12th of June, and we students were not allowed to begin living in the dorm until the 10th. However, back in Tucson I had sold my mobile home and the change of ownership took place on the 1st of June. That left an interval of nearly a week and a half. Most people would have probably begged a place to stay with a friend for most of that time, then either hopped a plane on the 10th or maybe hit the road on the 8th or 9th and driven straight through, day and night, to get to Grand Forks. But not me!

To my way of thinking, this was a perfect opportunity to see a bit of the country. So I packed up the goods I wasn't planning to take and left them with a friend, then hit the road in my Datsun 200SX with tent, sleeping bag and other camping gear. Having learned from my earlier experience on Road Trip '86, plus several shorter camping vacations in the White Mountains of Arizona, I went prepared for all kinds of weather, and with cooking gear so that I wouldn't have to eat in restaurants.

Here follows a state-by-state account of this voyage, with pictures.

June 1: Arizona

Wildernet – Arizona
Arizona Highways

I hit the road on the 1st of June, on a typical bright, hot day in the Arizona desert, giving thanks for the excellent air conditioning in my car. For the first part of the trip I headed north up Oracle Highway, through higher desert elevations, past the Salt River, until I reached the Mogollon Rim.

Normally, when camping in this part of Arizona I spend my time at places such as Big Lake or KP Cienega in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. However, this time I was heading north. A friend I had met at the Wycliffe QUEST program was getting married on the 3rd, and I was planning on dropping in and surprising him. So I continued north on Highway 191 (then known as 666!) to Lyman Lake State Park, where I spent the night.

Lyman Lake SP

Lyman Lake State Park
(Photo copyright: Arizona State Parks)

June 2 - 3: Colorado

Wildernet – Colorado
The Official Site of Colorado Tourism

Since I was wanting to get to the Denver area by the afternoon of the 3rd, I left Lyman Lake in Arizona early the following morning. I headed north and east, crossing through the northwestern corner of New Mexico and passing near the Four Corners area. (I did not stop to see the actual Four Corners that time; it wasn't until Farewell Tour '95 that I did so. I also returned during Rocky Mountain High '05.) Instead, I passed by this well-known tourist attraction and drove through the southwestern towns of Colorado, heading into the Rocky Mountains.

In the middle of the afternoon I drove through Wolf Creek Pass. Situated on the Continental Divide at nearly 11,000 feet, this is known as one of the snowiest places in Colorado. And indeed, when I was there the white stuff abounded. I still found it somewhat amazing that I could be outside throwing snowballs while Tucson roasted at over 100 degrees!

Wolf Creek Pass

Wolf Creek Pass

As you can see, even in June the snow still abounds.

I spent the night at a small campground about 20 miles from the pass. There were a couple of other campers there, and like me, they were there because they liked things peaceful and green.

The next morning I stopped at a KOA a little ways down the road to take a shower. I didn't want to show up at my friend's wedding smelling like I hadn't bathed in three days! The one thing I distinctly remember about this shower stop was that when I left I forgot my sweater. In one sense I didn't really miss it; it had always been two sizes too large for me. It had been given to me by a girlfriend years earlier. I guess she always viewed me as being bigger than I really was. Still, it was a memento of her and I regretted losing it.

The wedding was held in the Denver area, and my friend was definitely surprised to see me. I stayed afterward for the reception, then left late in the afternoon to look for a place to spend the night. Here, alas, came the only night in any of these trips where I ended up staying in a (ulp!) hotel… Why? Well, if you consider the several inches of rain that fell in a few hours, plus hail, plus trucks wrapped around light poles, plus funnel cloud sightings, I think you'll understand.

June 4 - 5: South Dakota

Wildernet – South Dakota
Travel South Dakota

With the wedding over I had a week to kill. I wasn't due in Grand Forks until the following Saturday, and I knew that to get from Denver to there would take considerably less than a week. So at this point I began to take it easy. I left Colorado and headed northeast into Nebraska, the first time ever in this state. And so, just to be able to say that I had set foot in Nebraska, I opened the door and stuck my foot out onto the pavement when stopped at a stop sign once. (Actually, I had never been in either of the Dakotas, either, but I knew that I would be spending the night in both.)

The Black Hills are a pleasant, forested area in an otherwise fairly flat and open state. I found a campground fairly quickly and decided to spend a couple of nights. I had the campground largely to myself, except for the occasional forest ranger. Since the day was mostly gone by the time I arrived I didn't do much the first night except relax and wander about. The next day, I went out to see the area.

A couple of popular attractions are Mt. Rushmore and Custer State Park. I visited both. Like most people, I had always heard about the faces on Rushmore, and seen pictures many times. But it was still something different to actually see them directly. It really struck me just how much work had gone into literally carving the side of a mountain into the likenesses of four of our former American presidents.

Mt. Rushmore

Mt. Rushmore

Always a popular attraction. I like this picture because it puts the faces in perspective with the surrounding area.

Custer State Park is large. Now, years later, I don't remember a whole lot except for a lake and the wildlife loop. This may be because I didn't bother to stop and see much of the historical stuff. Rather, I was there to see the natural side of things.

Lake in Custer SP

Lake in Custer State Park

I can't remember the name of the lake, but there was a hiking trail around it, which I explored thoroughly.

The wildlife loop is a circle of highway with a fairly low speed limit where people can drive and see the local fauna. One event still remains clear in my memory, even after all the intervening years. I was tooling along and up ahead I saw another car sitting stopped. When I pulled up behind I noted that there was a herd of wild donkeys off to one side and the other car's passengers were taking pictures. I waited my turn, then poked my camera out the window to snap a shot. I wanted the donkeys to look my way, so I whistled. Imagine my surprise when the whole herd ambled over for a closer look! I got my picture and a bit more.

Wild Donkeys in Custer SP

Wild Donkeys

I took this shot a few seconds before the donkey in the middle of the picture stuck its head in the window. As a friend would say, “Wild? Humph!”

June 6 - 9: Manitoba

Travel Manitoba

After two days in the Black Hills I decided to take a jaunt up into Canada. I drove up into North Dakota on a warm day, interspersed with thunderstorms. (I still recall the water seeping in through a bad window seal during one particularly heavy downpour.) Other than that the sky was mostly clear with occasional cumulus. Then, as the day was ending and I turned onto the road heading up into Canada, a strong cold front rolled in, with heavy, low-lying clouds and drizzle. By the time I reached the border the temps had dropped nearly 20 degrees. I was alone at the crossing, where a pleasant young Customs lady kindly went through my documents and things to make sure I wasn't an Iranian terrorist or an ax murderer, then let me into the country.

I had picked this crossing point because the International Peace Garden was located there. Actually, I didn't go out and see the garden, since I had arrived late in the day and just needed a campground. But I did spend the night.

The next morning I took a look at the map and decided to go north and spend a couple of days in Riding Mountain National Park. The weather was cool, but the days were long. I found a pleasant campground and set up my tent, then spent the next couple of days out sightseeing. There were plenty of hiking trails, as well as lakes and rivers. A couple of things still stick in my mind: tossing out Cheetos and watching (and hearing!) the squirrels fight over them, and seeing the sun set over the lake at 10:10 at night.

Sunset in Riding Mountain NP

Sunset in Riding Mountain NP

Summer days are long up north. I took this picture after 10 o'clock at night.

All good things must come to an end, and the weekend was approaching. So after two days I once again packed up my goods and hit the road, heading back south toward the good old U.S. of A. Wanting to get an early start on Saturday so as to arrive in Grand Forks in the middle of the day, rather than late, I once again stopped and camped in the International Peace Garden. The next morning I crossed the border.

June 10 and on: North Dakota

Wildernet – North Dakota
North Dakota Tourism

And so it ended. Before the morning was over, I was in Grand Forks, back in civilization, and ready to begin the great new adventure of learning to twist my tongue around strange sounds, and to analyze the many intricacies of the thousands of languages spoken on Earth. Sound grandiose? Well, it was a nice way of putting it. I actually have a great respect for those who devote their entire lives to linguistics.

And at least I've had a taste of what it's all about.

Copyright © 2005-2021 William R. Penning. All rights reserved.