July 2003

Why for South Dakota?

Washington, Idaho, Montana, Alberta, the Dakotas

Or… we made the mistake of buying a thermometer; now we know how hot it is!

Why does anyone want to live in South Dakota (as so many of you have written to ask)?  Best reason yet:  there’s no Starbucks in good old SD.  What other reason do you need….  But Rick will give you all the background on why we decided to make South Dakota our home state.  Please realize this doesn’t mean we plan to spend much time there, but in this modern world of ours we have to be residents of someplace, and good old California is not the best place for us.  

As full time RVers, we don’t have a “home” other than the turtle shell we call ‘Arvey.  One of the stickers on the back of the trailer says it all for us: “Home is Where You Park It”.  But in a legal sense, that isn’t good enough; we have to “be” from somewhere. So we made a choice – and we have to say that there is no one “right” choice, but rather several good ones to choose between. Other states have lower this or that, but for us, SD seemed to be the best overall package for the following reasons: 

  1. No state income tax; SD is one of nine states without one.
  2. Low sales tax on vehicles; SD has a state income tax of just 4%, although local communities add more, but charges only a 3% excise tax on any vehicle purchases.
  3. Low registration fees; the motor home annual registration is only about $100, whereas in CA it was $500 last year and expected to increase to over $1,000 this year. 
  4. Vehicle registration through the mail; this is great when needing to register from out on the road as we needed to do when our CA tags were expiring. For driver’s licenses, we did have to appear, but the process was extremely simple and straight forward.
  5. No annual vehicle inspections; these can be a real pain for full timers.
  6. Ability to use a PO Box address for vehicle registrations and driver’s licenses.
  7. The pleasure of being from a small state for a change; SD has a population of just over 750,000 people.  This fact really appealed to us.
  8. A welcoming attitude toward RVers; SD has an established history of being friendly to out of staters who want to become residents. Our favorite story came from a couple in a campground down in Alabama who had SD plates.  They had recently become SD residents and before doing so had done a little research.  After hearing, as we had, that SD was friendly to RVers, they had called the state DMV office to check. For starters, the woman who answered the phone was actually the head of the state DMV – try that in California. She listened to their questions and confirmed that yes indeed, you can register your vehicles by mail and can use a mailing address for vehicle and license purposes.  She went on to explain that eighteen years before, when she was new on the job, she had taken a similar call and on checking with her boss – the then head of the state office – had been told that SD liked full time RVers and was happy to have them as residents. This simple welcoming attitude means a lot to us and contrasts strongly with some larger states.

But enough of all that.  We are referring to this part of our summer as the “long, hot, smoky time of too many people.”  Much of July has been in temperatures 95-105 degrees; fortunately it has always cooled down after dark so we could sleep.  But we are so far north that darkness doesn’t come until 10:00 or so, which always requires a bit of adjusting.

Before hitting the real heat, while we were still on the western side of Washington State, we spent some time in the small town of Mt. Vernon, enjoying a Moto Guzzi rally.  Moto Guzzi guys are different; very iconoclastic, often aged, with old bikes they work on constantly.  Moto Guzzis are cool beasts, lovely to look at, and we have a real yen to own one some day.  We’re waiting for the perfect model to arrive; it hasn’t yet but we know good stuff is a-coming.  So in the meantime we go to rallies and drool over the bikes, having a fine time.  The folks are great and are happy to make us honorary members of their little club.  By the way, Mt. Vernon was proclaimed, by someone, to be the “best small city in the US”; don’t believe it, we couldn’t even find a hamburger after 5 pm.  Nice enough town, but very little going on.  The area nearby is gorgeous, however, full of lush farm land and fishing villages (near Puget Sound), the raspberries were cheap and plentiful, and to die for.  We ate ourselves silly.  Blue hydrangeas are common in the area, also, and were bright and vibrant.  Mt. Vernon is between Bellingham and Seattle, along a lovely stretch of the I-5 corridor, and traveling in the area is a treat.  Mt. Baker stands just to the East, looming over all, the highest peak in the area.  We enjoyed ourselves a lot.

We had arranged to pick up mail in Conway, just south of Mt. Vernon, so made a trip to this tiny spot one afternoon.  We were having real trouble finding the post office (or anything else, for that matter – Conway isn’t even a wide spot in the road).  We finally ventured a little ways beyond the public outhouse and found a little cubbyhole with a woman keeping guard over the post office boxes, signs about upcoming events somewhere near ….. and our mail.  She was a delight and we were pleased to have found this little corner of the world.  One of the best reasons yet for making plans to pick up mail in out of the way places.

Seattle-area sight-em:  “Last Chance Espresso” on the side of the road, advertising white coffee even, would you believe.

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When we left the Seattle area we traveled over the Cascades (and how beautiful they are!) on Route 2, over Stevens Pass.  What a lovely road.  The peaks were young and jagged, and the wildflowers were spectacular.  Very pretty countryside.  We had heard that in this area there was a great place for breakfast just south of Snohomish; we found it, The Maltby Café, in Maltby, and it was certainly worth the trouble.  Cinnamon rolls that covered an entire plate, egg dishes lovely and fluffy; just as advertised.  We waddled out and on our way, swearing never to eat again, other than to finish up the leftovers of course.

Dropping down the east side of the mountains, we hit a wave of heat that is still with us, weeks later.  We came down into Wenatchee, stepped outside, and promptly wished we were going in the other direction.  Wenatchee isn’t all bad; it is a major apple area, as you probably know, nourished by water out of the Columbia River, so it’s quite green.  This is also the home of Aplets and Cotlets (what good is candy if it doesn’t contain chocolate??????????).  Also, Wenatchee has some very nice public buildings, including a peaceful, very AIR CONDITIONED library, where we stopped to do some on-line projects.  Indoors, we could have stayed forever.  But on we went, heading for eastern Washington/Idaho.  We over-nighted in the city park in Odessa (don’t ask), which shall remain un-described – can you spell T-R-A-I-N-S?

Our destination was Moscow, Idaho, where we had arranged to take a series of seminars on various aspects of serious motorhoming, called Life on Wheels.  We enjoyed ourselves, learned some new things (Rick knows alllllllll about our air conditioning now), snagged some interesting recipe ideas, and then moved on into Montana.

But before leaving the area, we spent an afternoon in Pullman, Washington, doing several very important things.  Pullman is just across the border, the home of Washington State University, and a town Kathy had spent several years in back in the late 60s, early 70s.  Kathy had a great time pointing out various interesting places (“that’s where I almost ran out of gas,”  “that’s the hill we had to push the car up every night when it had been snowing,” “over there’s the creek you slid into if you didn’t make that turn properly,” and other noteworthy locations).  But she also found the house she’d lived in and where son Aaron was born.  “We built that fence ourselves, and it’s still standing.”  Rick enjoyed watching Kathy have so much fun.  We took pictures to send to the kids.  Oh, yes, and we visited Ferdinand’s Ice Cream Parlor on the WSU (WAZOO to the initiated) campus, home of the famous Cougar Gold cheese (and really yummy ice cream).  It was a good day.

Leaving Moscow, and hoping for cooler weather as we climbed into the mountains, we traveled over Highway 12 and the Lolo Pass into Montana.  The Lolo Pass is one of life’s true delights; it follows several lovely rivers and wanders up and over a gorgeous pass.  We had some different fun for part of the time.  The road is a bit windy, and suddenly we came across several bales of hay strewn along a curve of the road.  Around another corner, more bales of hay.  Then on aways further, we came across the hay truck, badly overburdened, with hay leaning far over on the right side, with two fellows trying to figure out how to stop losing their crop.  We all waved, and they went on restacking their load.  This is Lewis and Clark country, by the way.  We have noticed new signage in many places, and all the “treasures” and sights have been spruced up and are looking fine.  It is a good time to be following in the footsteps of these fascinating adventurers.  We recommend it to all of you.  Many people are in the area, checking stuff out; it’s quite apparent.  Areas that we would expect to be very quiet are filled with people learning about this wonderful voyage and probably seeing country they wouldn’t otherwise.  

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The Lolo Pass takes you to Missoula, Montana.  Montana is a real trip.  There are casinos everywhere, not necessarily associated with an Indian reservation.  And Montana has espresso stands, too!  Oh yes, and chain saw bears by the roadside; ripe for the purchasing……

Missoula is a nice little city, growing rapidly unfortunately, but pretty country.  And the home of the MacKenzie River Pizza Company.  Nuff said.  Unfortunately it was still 103 at 8:30 at night, so we spent a night, did laundry the next day along with a few repairs on the motorhome, and then headed toward Glacier National Park, the spot toward which we had been heading for quite some time.  We had been there before, loved it, and have long felt Glacier to be the prettiest of the national parks we have seen.  We had made reservations for five days.  We wanted to take a boat ride on Lake McDonald; both ride the motorcycle over Logan Pass on the Going-to-the-Sun Road and go over in one of the antique red observation busses (they are now back on the road after having been overhauled); and we wanted to do some hiking on the trails.  We didn’t do any of these things except the motorcycle ride over the pass.  It was quite sad.  Glacier was full of smoke from the local fires, very-very hot, and more crowded than we had seen it before.  We did attend and enjoy a couple of very interesting ranger talks; we learned about the building of the road over Logan Pass, in the late 1920-early 1930 era, and also found out that the glaciers in the park are all new (late 1800s), as opposed to dating from when the mountains were formed.  Also, it seems the glaciers are shrinking quickly; they expect none will be extant by 2040 unless the weather changes drastically. Oh, yeah, huckleberry ice cream.  As it turns out, we were lucky to see as much as we did, the day after we left, they had to close the Pass through the park and begin evacuating people.  Even now, almost two weeks later, the park is still pretty much closed while they continue to battle the fires.

After three days we moved on, hoping to find a cooler, quieter, smoke-free spot at Waterton Lakes, just over the border into southern Canada.  We crossed in a mountainous area, following the Elk River; there are aspens along the road, horses in meadows up to their hocks in grass; this is the Tobacco Valley, a lovely spot, ‘though we can’t speak for the name.  We were in the southeastern corner of British Columbia; a nice place to be.  Very quickly we crossed over into Alberta, through the Crowsnest Pass area, a nice gentle pass through the Rockies!  Who every would have envisioned such a thing?  We spent a night in Fernie Provincial Park; supposedly a moose came through the area about 4 am, but we didn’t see him.  

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We like all things Canada (except perhaps the area around Windsor, Ontario – yuck!); it seems more civilized, kilometers are cute, their loonies and toonies have heft and don’t feel like aluminum, and the people are unfailingly nice.  Going through a town which went down a significant hill, there was a sign saying “Please avoid use of Engine Retarder Brakes in Urban Areas”; we had seen a sign in the United States in a similar spot which said NO JAKE BRAKES!!!!!  Which do you like better?

As with all rural areas, you take your tourist attractions where you can find them.  We passed through Sparwood, BC, home of the world’s largest truck.  It was a doozie.  And we found a town with a gift shop called Frontier Plunder.  Too cute.  A significant, real attraction in the Crowsnest Pass area is the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre.  Frank is the name of a town.  In 1903 much of the town was buried in a huge slide.  The slide is still there.  The information center was a good one.  People were killed, a mine entrance was buried, the town moved (probably not to a better spot), stuff like that.  Rick had visited here in a previous life, but it was a first for Kathy.  We were quite impressed.

We arrived in Waterton Lakes, and left a couple of hours later.  It was just as smoky, as Waterton adjoins Glacier – the south end of upper Waterton Lake actually crosses over into Montana – and fire and smoke know no boundaries; and hot; and with enough people for us to say, let’s go.  It was a real shame, as Waterton Lakes is even prettier than Glacier.  But you couldn’t see from one end of the lake to the other.  We’ll be back.  Throughout our brief time in Glacier and Waterton we felt sorry for those folks who were visiting on their all too brief and long anticipated vacations and had to be disappointed by the conditions they found.  Once again we felt so fortunate to be able to just move on with the assurance that we can visit again at another time.  This is one of the most beautiful areas in the world, and very unspoiled.  If you’ve never been here, please put it on your list of “must do” places to visit.

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We headed east through southern Alberta Province, enjoying ourselves very much.  This is open prairie, with wind machines, threshing machines, horses, and all things we like.  Hay in the fields, a coyote crossing the road, grasshoppers beating themselves to death on the windshield, etc.  We found a place to stay the night, and ended up parked there for three days.  It was a small campground in Magrath, a little community of about 2000 people.  We fell in love with the place and could have stayed longer.  The couple who built the campground have put a lot of themselves into the place, and obviously love having company.  When we arrived, we learned that Magrath was having a town celebration over the weekend, and we were invited to partake of a pancake breakfast, watch a parade and several softball games, and look for the fireworks on Saturday night.  A grand time was had by all.  There were two family reunions going on in the campground, as folks were in town for the Magrath celebration.  Kids were everywhere, the playground was in heavy use, the owner pulled a little train of wagons filled with the kids with his riding lawnmower, and it was just great.  

The Magrath Celebration Parade was a hoot.  Lots of local folks on farm tractors, little kids on bicycles pulling littler kids on tricycles, horses wandering along in no hurry, a pickup with a sign saying EAT ALBERTA LAMB, a token Mountie (walking, to Rick’s disappointment) who was overweight and sweating slightly, flatbeds with the Class of ’93 (looking very with it and in their prime) and Class of ’83 (looking pudgy and over the hill already).  The crowd took the time to boo the local MP as he went by in a car; guess they aren’t any happier with their representatives than we are.  We had the pleasure of sitting next to a Mr. Pillings and his wife; they filled us in on all the town gossip, history, who was related to whom, etc.  We had a wonderful time.

New names for the cats:  Wide-body Bounder and Bovine torpor (guess who’s who………)

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We left Magrath wishing we could stay longer, but feeling the pull of commitments further on down the road.  So we headed back across the border into Montana, and took US 2 across the northern edge of the state.  We’ve traveled this road before.  Being of the firm belief that there really is no good way to get across eastern Montana, we simply put our heads down and kept going.  There were several groups of bicyclists on the road, going in both directions; this is flat country, wheat and hay country, filled with tiny towns, and good biking, I’m sure.  Every once in a while when we start thinking we must be nuts to be out in a place like this, we come across these nomadic bands of bicyclists covering the same ground but taking much, much longer to do it than we are; and we suddenly feel OK again.  The highlight:  going through the town of Rudyard, which says it has 69 nice people and one old sorehead.  Also went through Havre (pronounced HAV-er, naturally) and Glasgow (still ugly, Rita and Joe).  Spent the night in a nice city park in a little town just before the North Dakota border, and stepped across the next morning.  We were headed for Teddy Roosevelt National Park.  Getting there you go back and forth between Mountain and Central time, back and forth, back and forth.  It was weird.  Somewhere in there we finally crossed the Missouri River, after skirting it the entire previous day.  Lots of black-eyed susans along the road.

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The Dakotas are nicer than you think.  Rolling hills, lots of wheat, rugged but just fine.  We saw some pretty countryside in both states, and will plan to visit again, always making good use of the shoulder seasons if we can!  But Teddy Roosevelt National Park is just great.  These are the badlands, and they are BAD!  We spent most of our time in the northern park of the park, which is greener than further south, and has a large bison herd.  Which we ended up in the middle of …………(sorry for the improper grammar).  This was even better than when we had seen them in Yellowstone a few years earlier.  A herd of about 40-50, including bulls, calves and mammas.  The bulls were at each other; it’s mating season.  They weren’t quite ready to charge us, but we spent a lot of time being very still and quiet and not provoking them.  They were all over the road, and you couldn’t move.  Very impressive.  The Little Missouri River runs through the park, and it has cut out very interesting areas.  The temperature was 95 degrees, with 5 percent humidity.  Gasp.  We moved slowly, and enjoyed the experience a lot.

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Suffering some from the heat, we moved on, in a southeastward direction, heading for Sioux Falls to take care of business.  We went through Bismarck, ND’s boring capital; we went over a figurative bump in the road when we reached the fold line in the map and knew we were in the eastern half of the states; saw lots and lots of nice rolling hills and green places.  There is more water in the Dakotas than you might imagine.  And North Dakota has extremely nice rest areas, complete with large visitor centers and expansive grounds.  We stopped in Jamestown because I wanted to see the National Buffalo Museum.  This is a laid back small town with a little frontier village (pony rides and the whole works).  Pretty hokey.  But they do have an interesting buffalo museum, and it has a bison herd complete with a very rare white buffalo.  White Cloud.  Which we didn’t see.  But that’s okay.  It was fun.  At least I had fun; Rick survived.  Oh yeah, and Jamestown has the oldest county courthouse in the state; “So what” says Rick.

Moving on into South Dakota, we really felt we were “Back in the U S of A.”  This is approaching the heartland of America, and we went through one small town after another, each equally charming and well kept.  It was delightful.  Through a fluke, we ended up for the night in the little town of Redfield, in their city park.  It was absolutely lovely, right on the edge of a waterway:  cattails, birds galore, plenty of trees.  We were enchanted, and would have stayed for days.  Redfield is the pheasant capital of the world, not surprising with all the corn being grown in the area.  The town had suffered a tornado earlier in the afternoon of the day we were there.  There were trees down and no street lights.  But we were on the edge of town and the park only had a couple of limbs down.  Early the next morning a middle-aged couple that worked for the city came by to clean up the area.  They told us three houses had been destroyed and many more roofs were gone, but that no one had been seriously hurt.  

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This area is the home of Hubert H Humphrey (funny, I always thought he was from Minnesota where he later served in the senate……) and we traveled on a highway named after him.  We went through the town of Huron, which led us to a rather different day.  We ended up going to Huron because the road we had intended to take was closed.  In coming into Huron, I read there was a 40-foot high statue of a pheasant somewhere in town.  So we went looking for it.  Took a wrong turn and ended up at the state fair grounds.  Hmm.  The sign said ….. the fair was going on right now.  So guess what we did!  Absolutely right!  We went to the fair.  Petted goats and sheep, looked at chickens and ducks, ate Kettle Corn and pork loin sandwiches (at least I did; Rick had a brat filled with local wild rice – yummy he said).  Then, after exhausting ourselves at the fair, we renewed our quest for the pheasant and enjoyed a bit of Deja Vous – shortly before we saw the bird, we both almost simultaneously realized that we had been here before.  We’d wandered the same road on the motorcycle in 2000 and taken photos of both the pheasant and a nearby car dealer buffalo statue.  Wow!

I guess you could entitle that caper “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Corn Palace,” because that’s where we were trying to go.  The corn palace is in Mitchell, and you know, it’s hokey but it’s really neat.  If you’ve never been there, it’s hard to describe.  Well, okay….. it’s a building with corn stapled all over it.  But you gotta go there.  Worth the effort.  Every time.  Each year they renew the corn in a new design and they’ve been doing it since 1912 – this is the third different building they’ve used.

Then we mosy-ed on over to Sioux Falls, and spent two days taking care of business.  We are now bonafide South Dakotans.  We have driver’s licenses, SD insurance, are registered to vote, all the good stuff.  So you better not mess with us, pardners!

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Business finished, we got out of Dodge.  We’re heading for Canada to spend time with a cousin and go to a music festival in Red Rock, Ontario (near Thunder Bay).  We’re currently in Minnesota, and absolutely loving it.  Minnesota is cool and green and full of water and trees and birds and Garrison Keiler on the radio and trees and water and more trees and more water.  And it’s just great.  The agriculture is neat and tidy; acres and acres of corn and more corn ….. and a few other crops we haven’t identified as yet, with grass all along the roadsides.  

And more corn

We stopped in Alexandria, a decent-sized town in the middle of the state.  They have there, in a small but nice museum, the Kensington Runestone.  Totally cool.  It was left by the Vikings back in the 14th century.  For years its authenticity was disputed, but recently it has been carbon dated and is now accepted as the real thing.  It’s almost three feet high, and most of it is covered with this strange writing.  I liked it a lot.  The town also had the local theater group doing a play:  “How to Talk Minnesotan – The Musical.”  Wish we’d had time to stay and attend.  Also a little lake called Lake Agnes; we took pictures for our cat’s scrapbook.

We passed through the little wide spot of Pierz, where the parish hall was advertising “Polka Mass Tonight.”  Darn, we missed that too.  We’re spending a couple of days in the Mille Lacs resort area before heading to the border.  We’ve been on the go for so long we’ve had no time to get a good night’s sleep, much less pay our bills.  Our house is finally in escrow, would you believe it.  No offers at all for almost three months, and then three offers within a period of several days.  Expect to close escrow by the end of the month probably.  So we’ve been faxing paperwork back and forth, the usual routine, and this has added to the commotion.  I’m finally getting everything filed away again.  

David Cassidy is appearing at the Mille Lacs Casino in a few days; if only we could stay…………(yawn)

We have now, by the way, reached one of our big goals:  we are EM, east of the Mississippi River.  For quite a while, we hope.  

Try and stay cool, enjoy your summer, and we’ll be back in touch again soon.  Oh, by the way, as you know we dearly love hearing from you.  Makes us feel we still have the connection.  But sometimes you forget that it’s not a good idea to just hit “Reply” and send our message back to us along with your response.  We get virtually all our e-mail over our cell phone.  And remember:  the cell phone is a snake with a very narrow throat.  When you send our message back to us, the snake can’t swallow it hardly at all.  Takes a whole bunch of minutes for the message to come through.  And our server thinks we’ve lost interest and cuts us off.  So please don’t hit “Reply.”  Start a new message to us, if you don’t mind.

Later, dudes.

Rick and Kathy (and Jeremy and Agnes – and ‘Arvey and the Garage)

 See more photos from the US & Canada in 2001 to 2003

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