Thursday, September 19, 2013


4100 miles in ten days, one of which only included the 50 miles between Northfield and Minneapolis.  I love these trips, but this one was a little too quick, without much time to explore along the way.  I preferred the last couple of September trips when M and I could take a little longer - maybe even spend a couple of days in one place or drive less than 400 miles in a day!

The map above my desk has all the trips of the last three years (since July 2010) inked out in Sharpie.  And D still has two more years in Northfield!  I guess there is still more white space to fill in.

The trips are all labelled in the blog:

I'm always a little burned out after each trip, but it only takes a few weeks and I'm already looking forward to the next one!

Monday, September 16, 2013


We've pretty much covered most of the major routes between Seattle and Minnesota in the last few years, but somehow had missed most of US 12, so that was one of my objectives in planning this road trip.  We did the Idaho stretch (Lewiston to Lolo Pass) on the way east - last week.

And then this weekend, M and I followed it all the way from Minneapolis to Missoula coming back.  It was a great alternative to taking I-94 again and it filled in some blank space on the map above my desk.  It also appears to one of the shortest routes, if not quite the fastest.  We didn't have much time this year -- M and I both had to get back to work.  We took three days to drive the 1710 miles from Minneapolis to Seattle - with nights in Baker and Missoula, Montana.

I still find the rolling grasslands of eastern Montana and the not-quite-Rocky Mountains of central Montana some of my favorite western landscapes - must date to long drives with the family as a kid or to my days working and exploring this kind of country during and immediately after college.

Hundredth Meridian

The One Hundredth Meridian is a symbolic and somewhat arbitrary demarcation of the arid west, called out by John Wesley Powell in the 1800s.

We've crossed it 10 times during the past four summers (on 10 different routes between Nebraska and Manitoba), but each time as we get close I forget to take note.

We crossed it this past Saturday afternoon and I actually remembered to stop. An ideal picture would show well-watered corn and alfafa to the east and wheat and cattle to the west - but the already fuzzy line is blurred these days by irrigation practices that depend on replumbed rivers, groundwater pumping (mining?), and more federal subsidy than folks around here probably want to admit (and maybe a little luck in the late 20th century climate, too).

On U.S. 12 in South Dakota (east of Selby), there is a plaque marking the line. The sign dates to 1956 and shows true western boosterism and revisionist geography. True, the high plains have been much more productive than many could have imagined, but I think Powell's point was that the ground rules would have to be different, particularly when it came to land division, farming practices, and water apportionment.

It was sort of ironic that it was drizzling when we crossed the line!


Friday was an easy driving day compared to the other nine days of the trip, since we only had to get ourselves from Northfield to Minneapolis. I appreciated the break and it was nice to spend an evening in the city after miles and miles of mountains and plains.

We got a great room at a great price at the Marquette. The first photo is the view from the room. We had dinner at the Gorkha Palace with K, who just started at Macelester. And we had breakfast at Hell's Kitchen before heading out of town. We'd be in Montana by Saturday night!

Carleton College

We're back for a third September in a row to drop D in Northfield. And dropping him is about all we left time for this year. We arrived Thursday evening and were out after lunch on Friday.

He was looking forward to being back at school.  The summer painting job may have contributed to this, but I think new classes and playing Ultimate were really the main motivations.

He's in Myers this year - chosen for its proximity to dining hall and playing fields, I guess.


The first time we came through Northfield, three summers ago on our cross-country trip before D's senior year, it was baking, (July 2010) but it seems like every visit since has been wonderful.  I'm sort of getting used to the routine of wandering over to the river and into town for coffee early in the morning - and somehow the reflections of the old Malt-O-Meal mill and the waterfall are always good photo candidates (September 2011).

Thursday, September 12, 2013


Bobb, the enthusiastic travel companion we picked up back at the Palouse Empire Fair (scroll down a few posts), has found pretty much the whole adventure exciting.  Even when others were appearing bored or sleepy, Bobb had his eyes on the road ahead, wondering what new surprises lay in store. He was particularly amazed by the cattle guards on Union Pass in Wyoming, which often came with cattle, and the buffalo in Custer State Park in South Dakota.

And today, he was nearly overwhelmed by hundreds of miles of corn and soy beans (the latter is a more tenuous identification)!

Oahe Dam

M and D weren't done yet with showers and breakfast, so I drove up to the dam.  The Missouri is neither as muddy nor as free flowing as it once was, as it now consists of a series of long stair steps marked by broad dams and long reservoirs.

Oahe Reservoir extends something like 230 miles upstream into North Dakota (there are a couple of shots from a previous trip at hshipman: Mobridge 2010).  The earthen dam is 240 feet high and probably helps manage the unruly Missouri -- although I doubt the folks in downstream communities appreciated that during the floods of 1997 and 2011.


We spent the morning driving the Needles Highway, winding among the buffalo in Custer State Park, and exploring Wind Cave, then pointed the car east.  We drove out the south route - through Oglala and Pine Ridge, then cutting across the eastern end of the Badlands before briefly rejoining I-90.

We stayed in Pierre on the east bank of the Missouri and I spent a little time early this morning walking along the river near the hotel.  I guess it doesn't look quite like it did when Lewis and Clark came by here in September, 1804.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Harney Peak

I like road trips, but not just for the endless driving. It's nice to have some distractions - like tourist traps, side trips, and occasionally a more ambitious outing. It's also nice to combine road trips with esoteric hobbies, like collecting beaches, noting important watersheds, and where feasible, chalking up new high points.

Previous high points:  hshipman: Hawkeye Point 2012

Harney Peak is the highest point in South Dakota and another to add to a growing list (not a list I have any intention of actually completing, by the way). I was glad that D was willing to join his old man for this 7-8 mile round trip to the stone tower on top of the 7244' summit of the Black Hills.

The tourist brochures like to claim that this is the highest point between the Rockies and the Alps, although D and I questioned the technical accuracy a little bit.

Union Pass

It wasn't until a few years ago that I even realized there was actually a road of any sort across the Continental Divide north of the Wind Rivers. But it's been calling to me ever since.

I had several route options for the third day of our trip, but this one was the most compelling. A slow start to the day almost ruled it out, but we got out of Jackson with gas and food by 1 pm and the weather was looking good, so I casually mentioned to M that there was a 50-mile gravel road I was sort of curious about. She handled it remarkably politely, although by the time we started up the rocky track on the west side and dodged a few cattle, she was probably wishing she'd protested more. But we all made it out just fine.

The dramatic peaks of the Wind River Mountains fizzle out north of Green River Lakes and the Union Pass road traverses a 8000-9000' rolling plateau of meadows and aspen before dropping down more sharply to Dubois on the northeast side.

Union Pass is very near a major triple divide, so in just a few miles, we passed through headwaters of the Colorado, Snake, and Missouri Rivers. We started by following the upper Green River, which flows south through Wyoming and Utah before joining the Colorado in Cataract Canyon, then flows through the Grand Canyon on its way to Mexico and the Gulf of California.

We then passed across small streams that feed the Gros Ventre, which flows down to meet the Snake River in Jackson Hole, then flows through much of Idaho to eventually join the Columbia River in Washington before reaching the Pacific at Astoria.

And the east side of Union Pass drains to the Wind River, which becomes the Bighorn River, which joins the Yellowstone, which meets up with the Missouri west of Williston and the Mississippi north of St. Louis, before flowing past New Orleans on its way to the Gulf of Mexico (unfortunately, none of my pictures were taken on that side).

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Steptoe Butte

The family seems to enjoy road trips, but rarely demands much control over the specifics.  So I get to pick the route and the side trips.  I wanted to see the Palouse and Steptoe Butte seemed like a good place to see it from.  We scared off the group that was there when we arrived and had the place to ourselves.

D worked with M on her disc skills, while I took pictures and read about the geology.

Steptoe Butte is a hill of 400 million year old quartzite.  15-17 million years ago, the Columbia River Basalts flowed around it, burying its base in a thick stack of lava flows.  And then during the last ice age, an additional layer of windblown silt (loess) was layered on top of that (this loess forms the characteristic rolling and fertile landscape of the Palouse).

In the late 1800s, there was a hotel up here.  But it's been a great place to watch the changing landscape for a lot longer than that!

More on Steptoe Butte:
Reading the Washington Landscape:  Steptoe Butte


The Palouse Empire Fair wasn't on our itinerary, but when we happened on it, we had no choice but to stop. Sure, we could have driven past, but every time I've ever done that, I've spent the rest of the trip regretting it. D was a little less enthusiastic, but at least he didn't just sit in the car.  And he won an inflatable sword for swinging the big sledgehammer.  M on the other hand, threw two balls throw the hanging toilet seats and won a stuffed animal (a small red one).

I think both M and D were a little out of their element when we walked through the cow barn - but it was good for D to see an Angus on the hoof rather than just ground up on a bun.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Rainier Beach

Having spent the weekend avoiding some work stuff, and lacking the motivation to do anything terribly ambitious, I woke up Labor Day morning with no plan.  The weather forecast was poor (it was also wrong), which discouraged me from heading to the mountains.

But waffling has it's advantages.  I decided on a whim to drive down to south Seattle and explore Lake Washington between Seward Park and Renton.  It was a good fallback plan  Stopping at the Columbia City Bakery for a late breakfast was a good plan, too.