Cool Spot #40: Public Beach at Cour d’Alene, Idaho

For my final and fortieth cool spot of this past Milestone Trip 2013, I present to you the main city beach at Cour d’Alene, Idaho.

Cour d'Alene, ID

Cour d’Alene, ID

To be honest Cour d’Alene was not in our plans at all, but after Henna got stomach sick in Missoula we opted out of Lolo Pass and instead drove the interstate. A couple of years ago we traveled through Cour d’Alene and thought it nice. Not spectacular, but nice. On our first day there Henna craved white rice. Luckily we found a slightly better than average Chinese restaurant. By nightfall she was back to her old self and in the morning we hit the beach on the way out of town.

Corey found the beach dirty, Henna liked building sand castles, and I just kind of drifted on our inner tube in the shallow, warm water. A sightseeing float plane took off every thirty minutes or so which at first was pretty cool but then eventually became just a loud annoyance. There were also a lot of pre-teens and teenagers running around and although harmless, they also became annoying. But laying there in the water, with Henna feeling better and our whole trip stretched out before us, I felt pretty good. I forgot about the noises, the litter on the beach, and even where I was. I knew warmth, the rocking of the tube, and peace. After maybe thirty minutes of this we were ready to head back on the road toward Mount Rainier where we would hike for days with David and Mariah. Slowly I deflated the tube and walked toward the car. Noel 8/19/13

Milestone Trip 2013

A Few Roadside Attractions

Crazy Lips

The best things in life are free or at least not more than a nickel and for that reason alone we love Wall Drug (Cool Stop#37). Where else can you get free ice water as well as coffee for five cents? They actually charge 20 cents if you take it to go, but that is still a lot cheaper than Starbucks. An article framed on the wall there describes Wall Drug as being famous for being famous (kind of like the Kardashians of drug stores). There is some truth to that, but few places in America deliver on their promises as well as Wall Drug. The billboards advertise the chance to see a giant dinosaur and, by godly, you will see a giant flesh eating tyrannosaurus roar every fifteen minutes or so. And we are proud to say that for the first time Henna, with her hands over her ears, was able to stay for almost the entire growling.

Wall Drug

Cool Stop #38 is the granddaddy of all roadside attractions. Run almost continuously from 1854 (the fair took some time off for both the Spanish American War and World War II), the Iowa State Fair offers children a chance to marvel at farm animals and then throw up their lunch after riding some spinning object. Luckily the fair flows from animal exhibits to rides which results in most of the vomit being spilled outside of the animal pens. The Iowa State Fair is also good for showing off exciting advances in stick-food technology (my favorite was a rib wrapped in bacon; just $3). One of my favorite magazines is the The Onion which has been having a lot of fun at the fair’s expense (one article told how Iowa fair workers were told to shoot non-Iowa residents on sight).


Goat at Fair

We had a good time checking out the animals (who knew that ostrich eggs and their hatchlings could be so big) as well as browsing among the food items. Henna and I rode the carrousel and then Corey and Henna spent a lot of time concerned about where I might get sick. Luckily that did not happen and I left with a better appreciation for solid ground.

Biggest Truck Stop

Another road side attraction worth your time is The World’s Largest Truck Stop off Interstate 80 between Iowa City and Davenport (Cool Spot #39). Plenty of truck stops offer showers and laundry mats, but dentists and chiropractors too? And if we were not so anxious to get home, I would have got my hair cut there too. But at last, home beckoned and the essentials were put off for a few more days. Noel 8/16/13

Road Tripping Across South Dakota

Spoiler Alert: We made it home safe. On August 14th, after beginning our trip on June 24th, we arrived back at our home on the northwest side of Chicago. Before coming home we made a couple of stops that included meeting our new niece/ cousin (welcome to the world Willow, we love you already!) and hanging out with Mor Mor. So I know what you are thinking, did Noel get to 40 Cool Things? And did Corey really go on 40 hikes? Well, you are just going to have to keep checking in to find out.

View from Mount Harney

For the next three cool spots, I direct you to Custer State Park. With over 30,000 acres of semi-wilderness, Custer State Park definitely resembles a National Park. It has the lakes, the mountains, and the micro weather systems (a tornado reportedly landed less than thirty miles away from us on our final, quiet and dry night in the park). But it’s actually a state park so you have things like “begging burros” and a bison herd that gets thinned out each fall. There are also no bears here so you can leave out your cooler which we found to be a refreshing change. For us though the star attraction has to be Mount Harney (Cool Stop #34).

At Fire Tower

Coming in at over 7,000 feet, Mount Harney is the highest mountain east of the Rockies and the first mountain Corey and I hiked up together. A couple of years ago Corey and Henna hung out at Sylvan Lake while I hiked solo up Little Devil’s Tower (which rises opposite Harney’s peak). Since then Corey has had a strong urge to come back and summit the peak (she also had a fond memory of a hot dog served up at the cafeteria which did not at all live up to her recollection). Well, despite some ping pong size hail on the way up, we made it to the top. And there, delicately perched like a nest, was the CCC built Fire Tower which offered a basement, killer views of the needle-like mountain, and an attic of sorts which required climbing up a ladder. The clouds cleared and we spent some time just hanging out and enjoying the view before heading down. And then, with about a mile and half to go before reaching our car, the heavens opened up and pelted us with a very persistent and painful hail.

Henna collecting trail hail

Henna collecting trail hail

Cool Spot #35 is the Wildlife Loop. Along this eighteen mile road are the previously mentioned “begging burros” (which took visitors to Harney’s Peak up until the 1930 when the rides were discontinued and the burros left to fend for themselves), antelope, about 1,500 bison, nowhere near as many bighorn sheep, and a lot of mule and white tail deer. The whole ride is kind of like a fake safari ride only a lot cooler. Corey swears that bison are the ugliest, nastiest animals she has ever seen. Henna and I disagree and found the calves especially endearing. Our new bobble head bison agreed with us.

Mother and daughter

Begging Burros

The other scenic highway worthy of being titled a cool spot is Iron Mountain Road (Cool Spot #36). First conceptualized by former South Dakota governor Peter Norbeck (who also is responsible for setting aside land for Custer State Park), this road links the state park with Mount Rushmore. A slow road, it twists like a pretzel and offers up a different view of the presidents at each turn. The many one lane bridges also force a sort of patient negotiation between the tourists whom are leaving and those who are coming to the Black Hills. We were among those leaving and, with the last of the mountains seen from our rear view mirror, we headed east on the interstate. Noel 8/15/13

Along the Iron Highway

Cool Stop #33: The KOA at Devil’s Tower

The night sky was cloudy and starless but every once in a while lightning would grace the sky and we would catch a glimpse of Devil’s Tower. Joining us in watching Close Encounters of the Third Kind were a few other families and about a dozen bikers headed to and from nearby Sturgis. Corey and I sipped our cocktails while all three of us were completely engrossed in Steven Spielberg’s first feature film about aliens.

Devil's Tower

This summer we have stayed at about a dozen KOAs. Some of them have been great, others less so. But the KOA at Devil’s Tower beats them all. They have a pool opened until ten, easy access to booze, popcorn, and ice cream (as well as a diner) and a comfortable tenting area (although we stayed in a cabin). Oh, they are also just across the street from the monument and that tower dominates the day time skyline. Throw in nightly showing of Close Encounters and you got yourself a good time. Noel 8/11/13

Cool Stop #32: Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument

Little Bighorn National Monument

Just off Interstate 90 in Montana (around where it splits from Interstate 94) is a pretty neat slice of history. There, on the high plains where the ground rolls like a Buffalo with an itchy back, General Custer led over two hundred Calvary soldiers and attached civilians to their death. Littered about the former battlefield are headstones indicating where men, both Calvary and Native American, fell. The one trail we took led to a ravine where possibly twenty eight soldiers met their fate (there are no markers here, however, as the first efforts at marking the battlefield looked over this site). A lot of the National Monument also focuses on the Native Americans who were essentially defending their land and their way of life. After the battle, the victorious Sitting Bull fled to Canada where he remained until 1881 when he returned south to surrender. Later he was killed by Indian police on a reservation in South Dakota. The west was won and we all lost more than a little something in the process. Noel 8/9/13

Memorial to Native American Warriors

Calvary Marker

Cool Stops along the Bear Tooth Highway

View from Bear Tooth Highway

View from Bear Tooth Highway

Before packing up camp in Yellowstone this morning I met a young couple who reminded me greatly of ourselves fifteen years ago. Peter and Molly, self-professed camping newbies are at the beginning of a six week road trip to celebrate their taking the Bar Exam. They have no reservations and only a little idea of what awaits them. I wish them well (and also told them something an older couple told Corey and I at the beginning of our first trip; at the end of their trip they will either not be speaking or never be apart again. I am hoping and betting on the latter).

Clay Butte Fire Tower

For Cool Thing #30 I present the Clay Butte Fire Tower which can be found on the Bear Tooth Highway. The legendary news man Charles Kuralt repeatedly called this stretch the most beautiful drive in America. He may be right as the road repeatedly delivers images usually seen only after a long, upwards hike. Just when the scenery was getting really good, we came across a pictograph of a sign that pointed us to the tower. Ten minutes of windy, graveled, and climbing road later (not to mention many blind turns) we arrived at the tower.

Inside Fire Tower

Retired in the mid-70s, the tower now is operated by volunteers on a weekly basis who live on sight in a small apartment and give tours to people like us during the daytime. The current occupants told of grizzlies seen through binoculars and how the watchmen worked the tower before being replaced by helicopters. They also gave a quick geography lesson which accentuated the fact that the mountaintops used to be on a sea floor many, many years ago. Whoa.

Another gravel road, another adventure

Another gravel road, another adventure

These are 20 of the books Henna has read so far on the trip!

These are 20 of the books Henna has read so far on the trip!

Cool Thing #31 is the nifty food truck masquerading as a diner called Mas Taco which is located in Red Lodge, Mt. Red Lodge is, depending on your perspective, either near the end or the beginning of the Bear Tooth Highway. We think it is probably a lot more impressive viewed from those just beginning to climb into the Yellowstone area.

Mas Taco

Mas Taco will serve you tacos, empanadas, burritos, or quesadillas with shrimp, pork, steak, and veggie options. And man was it good. If you go to Red Lodge eat there. Noel 8/8/13

Cool Stop #29: Yellowstone at Night

Who says you can’t ever go back? About a month ago we left our comfy home in the Tetons headed to Mount Rainier. The route took us through Yellowstone but Corey was not feeling well so we barely left the car. Henna and I were able to check out a few geysers, but the whole thing left us kind of frustrated. So here we are, a week or so from home, and it has been kind of hard to adjust to Crazy Tourist Place U.S.A. Want to camp, better get to the park before ten (even on a Sunday). And if you ask a ranger a question, you better be prepared to listen to an extended lecture on bear safety. Me: Have you had much bear activity in this area? Ranger: Let me give you a five minute lecture about bears and what to do if you come across one.

On the Rescue Creek Trail

There is a reason why this place is so darn popular. It’s beautiful for one. It’s also pretty wild once you get off the pavement. Today we took a short trail while waiting to go on white water rafting trip and ended up in a sunny ranch landscape of buttes and grass. We also came across some possible Native American ruins and antelope skulls. Pretty cool considering that we were rarely out of sight from the main road.

Antelope Skull

But my favorite thing here so far has to be the nights. There is a meteor shower going on and last night we counted about ten shooting stars in maybe thirty minutes. Here the Milky Way looks like milk spilled across a starry night and you will feel like you went to bed too soon regardless of the hour. That is how I feel about the trip too. Noel 8/5/13

Cool Spot #28: The Mountain Front Market in Choteau, MT

At Many Glacier Lodge

We left the Many Glacier Lodge in the pouring rain pretty bummed about never leaving the hotel. Instead we snoozed and played card games on their comfy chairs by the fire and then slept fittingly in their “rustic splendor” of a room. Our most expensive accommodation of the trip boasted of paper thin walls and squeaky floor in the brochure. In fact, it was a regular step back in time as the place was devoid of televisions and had really lousy wifi. Corey and I had spent two wonderful nights there on our first road trip together. Despite the rain, it was nice doing it again with Henna.

Mountain Front Market in Choteau, MT

Mountain Front Market in Choteau, MT

Maggie at the counter

Anyways, we were headed down 287 between Browning and Helena, MT when I started getting kind of hungry. No sooner did I tell Corey that I was craving an apple that she suddenly pulled off to the side of the road. There, within the charming small town of Choteau, MT, was an organic and locally grown oasis of good stuff. A BYOB (bring your own bag) kind of store, it offered lots of ripe fruit, cheese, and grass fed local meats. In between stuffing my face with cherries, I also struck up a good book conversation with Maggie who was running the place. An Americorp graduate who previously serviced Chicago’s impoverished Lincoln Park neighborhood (where some of its residents can barely afford a decent latte a day), Maggie seemed genuinely excited to be featured in this award blog.
That same day then ended with clear skies, a comfy grass tent site, and overpriced washing machines. All in all it felt good to be back on the road. Noel 8/4/13

Cool Stop #26: The World Before The Park

Been to this peaceful and fun park now four times but yesterday was the first time I ever really considered the people who lived here for close to ten thousand years before Waterton was a park. By the way, in writing this I realize that I am starting to run out of adjectives to describe what I am seeing so please bare with me. And speaking of bears, we saw a couple yesterday. First time was across the road from the Lost Creek picnic area that not only has a wood burning stove, but also a nifty grill within the stove that was perfect for grilling up my smokies (or sausages at they are called in the States).

"Where prairie meets mountain"

“Where prairie meets mountain”

Anyways, we were munching on our lunch when Crazy Bear Lady (who claims she saw seventeen bears the day before) started yelling and gathering her camera and children. It seems that a couple of bears were also enjoying their lunch, or they were anyways until Crazy Bear Lady called attention to them which resulted in a traffic jam which probably ruined their day. Later we were on a very informative and interesting guided hike (again, running out of adjectives here) and, just as we were rounding the final ridge, a rather large bear walked maybe twenty five yards in front of us. We quickly turned around and walked back before remembering that our car was actually forward. A few minutes passed before others in our hiking party caught up with us. They did not understand our apprehension so we let them lead the way back to the car.

One of our favorite mountain lakes- Bertha Lake

One of our favorite mountain lakes- Bertha Lake

But what made yesterday really special (besides not being eaten by a bear) was our immersion in the pre-historic world of the Blackfeet people. First it was with the arts and crafts activity at the Crandel Moutain Campground that was led by a couple of ladies who nicely represented the Blackfeet Nation. In between making a traditional head dress out of safety pins and beads, they patiently answered my endless questions about the history of the Blackfeet people.

Afterward it was a guided hike led by a naturalist who again patiently answered my endless questions about the Blackfeet people. The theme of the hike was how the Blackfeet people hunted the bison (pronounced with a z sound in these parts and nicknamed “walking Walmarts” by the other facilitators). The answer involves fire, buffalo pounds (which are natural boggy traps like snow drifts), and “dead men” which were rocks stacked up to resemble people which kept the bison moving in the direction they wanted them to. We also talked about some basic rites of passages like vision quests. Soon many of my friends and family are going to fast for a day. Black feet adolescent males did it for four days. They also did it alone on top of a mountain. Afterwards they talked about their visions to their elders (and probably did not even have any mandel bread to break the fast).

The Old/New Waterton Lakes Opera House

The Old/New Waterton Lakes Opera House

All in all it was a good day and our third one in the park. That night it poured on us and this morning we packed up in the rain. But on the way out we enjoyed an awesome breakfast at the Waterton Lakes Opera House (Cool Stop #27). When we first entered the park I was kind of disappointed that the movie theater was gone. It was after all where Corey and I saw Planet of The Apes (with Mark Wahlberg not Charleston Heston- we are not that old). But it has been converted into a very cool coffee house/diner/ music venue/ice-cream store. We went there almost every day and greatly enjoyed the Sirius music (mostly Outlaw Country) and the good restorative job done by the owner, Phil. This morning I talked a bit to Phil and was happy to learn he has spent almost every summer in the park and always enjoyed seeing movies at the old theater. We are certain he will continue to take good care of the former opera house. A special shout out to our new friend Lona (sorry if I spelled your name wrong, please correct me if I did) whose day job is a bit more stressful than most. Lona entertained us greatly with stories that could only be from Alaska (respect all bears but really respect the polar bear). We loved camping next to you and hope to hear from you soon. Noel 8/3/13

Cool Stop #25: The Park in Fernie, B.C. (off Highway 3)

Sometimes we want to play in the mountains, but sometimes it is more fun to play in the shadow of the mountains. After a fun four days in the Nelson area, it was time to rest up for the final act of our trip. The town of Fernie worked out well for us. The hotel was reasonably priced and included a pretty nice communal kitchen. All electric doo-dads were recharged and except for the off-key singing around midnight by some other patron (Henna slept through and Corey and I were still awake so that was actually kind of funny) it was a good night. But just before checking in Henna spied a park and made us promise to take her in the morning. In the morning she still remembered our promise so we reluctantly went to the park. And you know what? It was pretty fun. I loved the funky slide and it was great enjoying the sunshine and mountain views without any hiking or other physical exertion involved. Eventually Henna had to drag us away so we could drive over to Waterton.

Henna at Park

Noel at Park

Noel 8/1/13