Washington to Illinois to Washington - May 2013

Todd and I along with our fun-loving Old English Sheepdog Hank on our roadtrip to Illinois to see and meet Todd's entire family. What an amazing and wonderful journey. It is so much fun to take to the road without a particular destination each night. We would start our drive in the morning and have a couple of destinations in mind, but no set number of miles each day.

Our only goal was to make it to Todd's parent's home in Illinois within about 5 days or so.

We had such a great time and Todd's entire family was amazing. They couldn't have been more wonderful, welcoming or made me feel more at home. It was a fantastic trip filled with fun, adventure, family, lots of get togethers, and lots and lots of eating.

And we're off. Left Seattle about 8am. This was my first time to the other side of the Cascades. I was surprised to find so many wind farms and to see how much different this side of the mountains in the same state looks.

Wild Horses Monument near Vantage, WA. A 200 foot line of 16 life-size horses added at this site during Washington State's Centennial Celebration, are actually entitled Grandfather Cuts Loose the Ponies. Made of steel plates by artist David Govedare hoping to capture the mystical spirits of a time that has passed remind us all of time when creatures were able to roam wild and free.

We were the only ones at the parking area that the Wild Horse Monument for a little while and then an RV pulled in. Hank and I were a good 50 yards in front of Todd on our way back to the car when I heard Todd call to us. The RV had stopped and asked Todd if that was his dog and if they could say hello. Naturally I went back and the RV had grandparents and two young kids. I think grandma was the most enthralled with Hank, although the kids loved him too.

This is the view looking out from the the Wild Horses Monument down at the Columbia River.

We didn't make too many other stops the rest of the day. We weren't in any hurry, but this was our first day so we just kept on trucking...and had no idea that we would actually wind up at Yellowstone National Park our first night because we hadn't intended on driving 750 miles our first day, but it kind of just flew by and there we were.

We found our first of many dog friendly hotels we would be staying at, and woke to a cool morning and headed into Yellowstone to explore the park.

Liberty Cap - A Dormant Hot Spring Cone. This 37-foot tall formation marks the location of a hot spring (and possible geyser) that stayed in one location for a long time. Over the years the geyserite built this tower-like structure. What is most unusual about it is that the spring did not seal itself closed as it built the cone. The formation was named Liberty Cap by the Hayden Survey team that visited Yellowstone in 1871 referring the peaked caps worn during the French Revolution.

Mammoth Hot Springs at the northern end of Yellowstone National Park. Did you know that Yellowstone was the worlds first national park, established in 1872 and is larger than Rhode Island and Delaware combined.

Old Faithful Inn was built during the winter of 1903-04 and was designed by Robert C. Reamer, who wanted the asymmetry of the building to reflect the chaos of nature. The Old Faithful Inn is one of the few remaining log hotels in the United States. The building is a rustic log and wood-frame structure with gigantic proportions: nearly 700 feet in length and seven stories high.

Old Faithful is a cone geyser that erupts every 91 minutes shooting 3700 to 8400 gallons of boiling water 106-185 feet into the air.

There goes the 3700 to 8400 gallons up in the air!

Todd near Mammoth Hot Springs.

Mammoth Hot Springs is a large hot spring terrace that has been created over thousands of years as hot water from the spring cooled and deposited calcium carbonate.

The park is home to diverse wildlife, including grizzly bears, wolves, bison, and elk.

Pronghorn Antelope.

Bison are common in Yellowstone park and can be viewed in many locations during most of the year.

The Fountain Paint Pot is named for the reds, yellows and browns of the mud in this area. The differing colors are derived from oxidation states of the iron in the mud. As with all hot springs, the heat in the caldera forces pressurized water up through the ground, which is expelled here. Also, rising gasses cause the bubbling action. The bubble action in the mud varies with the seasons. In the early summer, the mud is watery from the high water table due to rain and snow melt. By the end of summer, the mud is much thicker as the water table drops.

Well I guess it was good that we traveled 750 miles on our first day, because we didn't make it too far the second day. We spent nearly the entire second day traveling thru all of Yellowstone National Park. On this third day we travel thru the rest of Wyoming to South Dakota. Here Hank posed at Big Horn National Forest.

Our first of two white-knuckle drives. This one over the Big Horn Pass. The other was on our return trip thru the center of Kansas and major tornado warnings.

Look familiar? This is the first National Monument declared in 1906 and most famously known for its appearence in the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It is still not known exactly what it is or how it was formed. Some theories are that it is a Volcanic Plug or a neck of an extinct volcano. Other theories are that it is a laccolith which is a large mass of igneous rock which is intruded through sedimentary rock beds without reaching the surface. Whatever it is scientifically, visually it has become one of my favorite tourist spots and monuments. It is so unusual looking rising dramatically 1,267 feet above the surrounding terrain which is mostly rolling or flat prairies.

Here is the view of Devils Tower as you approach it from the highway. That is one of the other things I really like about it - it is somewhat off the beaten path and not super well known. Each time I have been here it has always been somewhat quiet and never too busy or chaotic to enjoy.

Todd and Hank were pretty impressed by it. We would have hiked around it, but this day was rainy and cold.

From Devils Tower we headed onto Mount Rushmore. We didn't think we would get here early enough to visit it the same day and also after such cold and rainy weather at Devils Tower we figured we would settle in for the night and hit the monument in the morning. But when we arrived here the skies opened up and it was beautiful. So we took advantage and headed right out to the monument.

Mount Rushmore is another of my very favorite monument. Everytime I have visited it I look up at it in awe thinking of such a huge undertaking and the challenges it posed, especially in 1927 without the same technological advances we have today.

Started in 1927, the faces were completed between 1934 and 1939.

Although the initial concept called for each president to be depicted from head to waist, lack of funding forced construction to end in late October 1941.

We started calling Hank our Flat Stanley getting his picture at nearly every tourist spot we visited.

And me too.

Although we have quite a few pictures of Hank, it is amazing how many strangers have pictures of Hank as well. While taking this picture we were approached by a couple that had seen us at Devils Tower (132 miles back) and tried to catch us there but missed us and they really wanted a picture with Hank.

After a long day of sight-seeing, Hank was ready to settle in for the night.

And what trip would be complete without a stop at the famous Wall Drug Store? Its a pretty remarkable place and quite a story - real American Entrepeneurship at work here. A couple that bought the small drug store in 1931. Part timing and part inginuity. They struggled with the store for about 5 years and then visitors to the NEW Mount Rushmore Monument, which was being completing starting passing right thru their town and the idea struck to start bringing in customers with an offer of FREE Ice Water - perfect for travelers thru the mid-west on a hot summer's day without air conditioning. And that's how it started. Today Wall Drug Store more like a complex or a's huge!

And then there is the Mitchell Corn Palace. Kind of hoaky in my opinion, but still pretty cute, clever and an interesting tourist attaction if you have the time. The Corn Palace serves the community as a venue for concerts, sports events, exhibits and other community events. Each year, the Corn Palace is celebrated with a citywide festival, the Corn Palace Festival. The original Corn Palace was built in 1892. Rebuilt in 1905 and in 1921 again. It costs $130,000 annually to decorate the Palace.

And then a very special stop for Hank to visit his Mom and Dad. The breeder where Hank came from was somewhat on our route to Todd's family and we arranged a visit for Hank to see his folks.

Alton, IL - Home of the world's tallest man.

At last - we got Todd's entire family together for a group photo...all present and accounted for.

Todd with his 3 sisters and parents.

One of Hanks biggest fans - Todd's great-nephew, Luther.

Some more Hank fans - Todd's niece Emilee and her husband Frank.

Emilee and Hank cuddling on the couch.

And probably Hank's biggest IL fans, and the best hosts ever, Al and Myrt Fricker - Todd's parents.

Hank even made some friends at church on Sunday. The pastor actually went into Sunday school class and brought these kids out to meet Hank.

This was one of the cutest scenes watching these kids.

And Hank was just eating up the attention.

Heading into St Louis for the day.

We met Todd's friend Lynn in St. Louis for lunch in Forest Park.

After lunch we wandered around Forest Park. This is in front of the Muny theater, short for The Municipal Theatre Association of St. Louis. It is an outdoor musical amphitheatre located in Forest Park, St. Louis. The theater seats 11,000 people with approximately 1,500 free seats in the last nine rows that are available on a first come, first served basis.

And tied for the Hank's biggest IL fan, Todd's cousin Lori.

Boy, I am beginning to run out of ways to describe Hank fans. This is Todd's cousin, Pam, who lives right across the street from Al and Myrt. Hank couldn't stop licking her...I can't remember if that was before she gave him a huge bag of bacon treats or after.

There is Hank getting some lovin' from Todd's mom.

Grandma and Luther sharing a special moment.

Luther's mom, Katie with one of her other sons, Graham.

And here is Katie's oldest with their dog Eve and Hank.

And here is Todd's neices Kara and Katie, along with Kara's daughter Klair.

This was another fantastic family gathering - this one at Todd's sister Kim's house - this is Todd's neices Kelsey and Katie.

Emilee and Hank in Forest Park in St. Louis.

And here is the Hank cake we made for Todd's sister for her retirement celebration.

We hadn't planned on making a Hank (dog) cake, but Todd got so excited when he saw a bakery on-line nearby that made a dog shaped cake he decided he wanted to order one for his sister's retirement. But when we called to order it, she was booked months in advance and couldn't do it. So as not to see him disappointed, I told him I could make a dog cake. His response "REALLY? How are you going to make a dog cake?".

Out to dinner for all-you-can-eat pork chops!

Hank is not quite ready to leave the comfort of Al and Myrt's home...even he agreed they are awesome hosts!

So we took a slightly different route on the way home thru Kansas, Colorado, Utah and Southern Idaho.

Beautiful clear day, but quite window as you can see.

This is Garden of the Gods, about 50 miles south of Denver, CO.

The Garden of the Gods red rock formations were created during a geological upheaval along a natural fault line millions of years ago.

This is called...guess! Yep, Balanced Rock. Pretty original, huh?

Still pretty windy, huh?

Balanced Rock.

Sleeping Giant.

Up thru Denver and headed east up and over the Rockies. The Rocky Mountains are notable for containing the highest peaks in central North America. The range's highest peak is Mount Elbert located in Colorado at 14,440 feet.

The Rocky Mountains stretch more than 3,000 miles from the northernmost part of British Columbia, in western Canada, to New Mexico.

Next stop - Vernal, Utah.

Here we stopped to visit with a friend and colleague of mine, Marsha and her family. This is her daughter Mercedes playing with Hank.

copyright protected - photos by Tom Whalen

Drop me an email Tom Whalen