Two of your friends embarked on an experience of a lifetime when they decided to relocate from Vancouver to Toronto. Not wanting to cut corners, this was the opportunity for a road trip from the West Coast of the USA to the Great Lakes. An adventure like this needs more friends like we always say “adventure is better shared with friends”. So our Road Trip, USA, welcome our family member and dear friend Megan (Sherriden’s Sister). Because things are better in fours we were also joined by fur friend, Mr Franklin Von Bunn our Mini Dachshund.
Driving from Vancouver to Toronto is just under 4,500 km (2,800 miles) and takes approx. 42 hours to complete. There are a few different routes you can take. You can traverse across Canada through the Rocky Mountains and the Prairies, or like we decided, south-east, through the Northern States of the USA. We made this choice for a number of reasons. The drive time was a little shorter and there were some landmarks that we had always wanted to see.
Travelling with a dog we decided to take our time and spend a full 7 days on the journey. We travelled through 9 states and saw some of the most amazing scenery the USA has to offer.
Road Trip, USA Day 1 – Vancouver, BC to Spokane, WA (403 miles, 650 km)
We woke early and started for the border. Saying goodbye to our home of 10 years was bittersweet. We were excited for the future in Toronto, however, saying goodbye to a city we love and the people who had welcomed us into their hearts and community made for a somber morning drive. We approached the international border, well organised with our paperwork ready, especially Mr Von Bunn. It is important to be prepared and organised when you travel with a dog. Read more tips for travelling with your pet in our blog post.
This would be our last drive through the Pacific Northwest for the foreseeable future. We have driven this route on multiple occasions on our way to Seattle. The Pacific Northwest is world renown for its pine forests and the coastal Cascade Mountains. For good reason, the pine trees and mountain views have a character, unlike any location we have visited. As the mists float between the rolling mountain ridges, they take the imagination back to a time before human civilization. An ancient time, when giant conifers towered over their domain and long extinct animals arose from their ice age slumber to forage and fight for the place in the wilderness. In fact, wilderness is the best way to describe the Cascade Range. It is understandable that it has the highest rate of Sasquatch “Bigfoot” sightings in the world. It is one of the few places that could hide the mythical creature. It appears so wild and impenetrable. Mystery and majesty juxtaposed by the occasional encroachment from civilization. But most of all it is green, so green, for good reason Washington is called the Evergreen State.
Wild Horse Monument
We stumbled upon this fun little roadside stop. Overlooking the Columbia Lake and Wanapum River in Washington, the Wild Horse Monument is a public art sculpture created by Washington’s own David Govedare in 1990. It consists of 15 metal life-size horses that appear to be galloping over a ridge. You can hike up to the sculptures (the climb is a little steep and rocky) and get wonderful views of the Columbia River. The landscape starts to change here becoming more arid and desert-like.
After a quick hike, we were back in the car and on our way to Spokane. Stopping by a few rest stops to walk Franklin and grab some free (donation) coffee and snacks. Local charity organizations have stands at many of the rest stops that you can grab a coffee and cookie. It is technically free, but it is nice if you provide a donation to the charity in exchange. We arrived at our rental apartment on the outskirts of Spokane and rested for the next leg of the journey.
Road Trip, USA Day 2 – Spokane, WA to Billings, MO (536 miles, 862 km)
Leg 2 drive time was almost 9 hours, the drive would take us through 3 states, Washington, Idaho, and Montana. The highway hugged the sides of the Coeur d’Alene and St Regis Rivers and provided stunning views of the Rocky Mountains. There were not many sightseeing stops on this leg, with the exception of a lunch break in Butte.
Our Lady of the Rockies
Located in Butte Montana, Our Lady of the Rockies is a 90-foot statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary that overlooks the Butte. It is the fourth tallest statue in the United States. It was constructed by a local resident after he promised his wife who was battling cancer that if she recovered he would build the statue in her honour.
If you are just driving through Butte, the statue is a little hard to see from the road so we recommend that you stop in this cute little town and get a good view. You can take tours up to the top of the mountain in the Summer. The tour runs for 2 hours.
We arrived in Billings and checked in to our dog-friendly hotel. We rested ready for the following day which would include a higher rate of sightseeing adventures.
Road Trip, USA Day 3 – Billings, MO to Hill City, SD (364 miles, 586 km)
Marking the halfway point of our journey we thought we would slow down a trip a little and get some sightseeing in. This leg took us towards South Dakota which meant a drive through Big Sky Country. It is hard to fully fathom what is meant by “Big Sky Country” from the name alone. The nickname was given the Montana State Highway Department to reference the unobstructed skyline that can, at times, overwhelm the landscape. You really need to be in the middle of it to fully feel the effect of the sky enveloping all you can see from horizon to horizon. It really does feel bigger than any other place you have been.
Little Bighorn Battlefield
Our first stop for the day was about an hour South of Billings. This National Park and Monument was the site where in 1876 Lt Col Custer and over 200 soldiers lost their lives in a battle against the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho warriors. Commonly referred to as Custer’s Last Stand or Battle of the Greasy Grass as it is known by the Lakota. The battle was part of the Great Sioux War of 1876. It was an overwhelming victory for the Indian tribes led by Chief Crazy Horse. After the battle, Custer and his men were raised as national heroes. But the full story behind the battle and the political mismanagement that led to the Great Sioux War were brushed over by history. The monument does a good job of showing both sides of the conflict. Educating the visitor through the artifacts and learning in the visitor centre and with the use of audio guides via the monuments web app. There are several interesting sculptures and memorial monuments in the park. You can walk through some to get up close and then take a 4.5-mile car tour with an audio guide through the battlefield site (Please note that this is a national park and dogs are not allowed outside of the car).
We couldn’t complete the trip without a stop through a town which almost matches the namesake of one of the four friends. Sheridan, Wyoming is a small town nestled near the Bighorn National Forest. Known for cattle ranching, coal mining and logging, there was not a lot to see from a tourist perspective. We stopped for coffee, fueled up and took advantage of a quick photo op. Sheridan still felt like a good representation of small town USA.
Jutting out of surrounding plains of the Black Hills, like it was thrust from the depth of the earth, the Devils Tower is a huge monolithic igneous rock formation. It is a sacred site for the Northern Plains Indians and its many parallel vertical cracks make it a very popular rock climbing site. In 1906 Theodore Roosevelt named the Devils Tower America’s First National Monument. If you have time, you can explore the park and even climb and hike up the rock. We were a little tight on time, so we just bought some souvenirs and got some quick snaps.
Movie fact: It was made famous by the 1977 film, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, tourist memorabilia is full of alien-themed souvenirs.
Settled in the 1870s, Deadwood was a frontier town during the Gold Rush era, it is most famous for being the town where gunman Wild Bill Hickok was murdered. Calamity Jane also made a name for herself in these parts and is buried next to Hickok in Mount Moriah Cemetery. Other legends, like Potato Creek Johnny, Seth Bullock, and Al Swearengen, created their legends and legacies in this tiny Black Hills town. Nestled in a ravine of the Black Hills, Deadwood was a true Wild West town full of gold fever, gunslinging, gambling, and alcohol.
Today Deadwood still has the facade of many of the original buildings. Walking along the main street, most shop fronts are full of casinos and tourist souvenir shops. It is a little kitschy but worth a visit is you are in the area.
We stopped at the KOA (Kampgrounds of America) Mount Rushmore Palmer Gulch for the night. We don’t normally stay in campgrounds, but with a dog, your options can be limited. We picked a cabin and roughed it for a night. A large storm rumbled through while we slept (or tried to sleep) and made the experience even more “wild west” like. We swear during the night we could hear restless natives, Wild Bill and the occasional alien circling our cabin. Or perhaps all the sightseeing had our imaginations getting be better of us.
Road Trip, USA Day 4 – Hill City, SD to Sioux Falls, SD (380 miles, 611 km)
We rose before dawn and were ready to get out of the campsite as quickly as possible, The storm had stirred us and we were ready to refresh our spirits with more interesting sights.
Crazy Horse Memorial
It’s crazy to think that almost in the middle of nowhere and so close together there are 2 of the most amazing feats of monumental sculpture and engineering, Crazy Horse and Mount Rushmore. We have been fascinated with this structure for many years. It is impressive how big this sculpture will be when it is finished. But also the depth of vision behind it. It is a testament to the concept of cathedral thinking, which is the premise that sometimes it takes an individual or group with a long-term vision and foundation to lay the path for multiple generations to create their goal. The reason for the sculpture is also inspiring. It was Chief Henry Standing Bear’s desire to create a monument to rival Mount Rushmore. In his words “My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know that the red man has great heroes, too.” He commissioned Korczak Ziolkowski who had worked on Rushmore, to create the monument.
The sculpture has been in progress since 1948 and by looking at the final design with Crazy Horse sitting on a horse, we may not see it completed in our lifetime. If it does get completed, it could be the world’s largest sculpture. This thing is huge. The face is almost complete with other features such as the horse and outstretched hand slowly taking shape. The sculpture’s final dimensions are planned to be 195 m wide and 172 m high. The head of Crazy Horse will be 27 m high. There is much controversy from all sides regarding the sculpture. Some argue that the destructions of the mountain goes against what Crazy Horse would have wanted. Others feel that the Ziolkowski family is taking advantage of the Crazy Horse name for personal gain. Or that the true value of the monument comes from the Crazy Horse Monument Foundation that provides education to the local indigenous community. It is unlikely that anyone will ever agree on it now or in the future. Feel as you may, the only thing we are sure of is it has come too far to stop now.
Only 20 minutes from Crazy Horse, is possibly the most famous monumental sculpture in all of the USA. Mount Rushmore is a granite mountain that has the faces of past US presidents, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln carved into the side of it. A world renown landmark, the sculpture was the brainchild of Doane Robinson who wanted to create an attraction to draw in visitors to the area. He contacted Gutzon Borglum who had been responsible for other large natural sculptures. Construction started in the 1927 and was completed in 1941. It was completed by Lincoln Borglum, the son of Gutzon, who unfortunately never saw his work fully complete. Each face is 18 m high with the subjects looking over the land with presidential authority.
After having seen photos for many years, it was pretty cool to be there in person. The park itself is quite small. There is a viewing platform at the base of the mountain and a trail you can take to get a closer look.
Badlands National Park
Located in the Northern Great Plains in southwest South Dakota, Badlands National Park is 244,000 acres of spectacular landscapes and wildlife. Looking more like something from another planet, this park is home to deep canyons, towering spires, and buttes. One of the world’s richest deposits of fossils it provides a view of the continents past. The landscape is a mix of prairies, grasslands and geological formations made from sedimentary rock deposited during the late Cretaceous Period (67 to 75 million years ago) throughout the Late Eocene (34 to 37 million years ago) and Oligocene Epochs (26 to 34 million years ago). The natural forces have sculpted the landscape into a formidable and somewhat harsh environment. The layered colours in the rock formations are undeniably beautiful. The awe-inspiring vistas are only surpassed by the regions educational value and a reassertion that nature can adapt and embrace any landscape, no matter how inhospitable it appears.
When passing Badlands National Park, make sure you stop by Wall Drug Store. You will see the signs for almost an hour out telling you about all the things to do and see there. It is worth stopping by and checking it out! We ended our day in Sioux Falls which sits on the border of South Dakota, Minnesota, and Iowa. By this stage, we have travelled almost 3,000 km. The end of our journey was nearing. Only 1,200 km to go!
Road Trip, USA Day 5 – Sioux Falls, SD to Moline, IL (460 miles, 740 km)
The drive to Moline was pretty uneventful. We made lots of rest stops along the way, even to some interestingly named Gas Stations!
Purely picked as a rest stop to break up the trip, Moline is situated on the Mississippi River and separates Iowa and Illinois. Moline is home to the agricultural manufacturing company John Deere. It was really hot when we arrived, so we checked into the Elements hotel and enjoying complimentary beverages to keep us cool.
If anyone is a fan of the History Channel, you would have seen an episode of American Pickers. Antique Archaeology is located in LeClaire which is just across the Mississippi River from Moline. We just had to stop there for a photo opportunity!
Road Trip, USA Day 6 – Moline, IL to Kalamazoo, MI (300 miles, 483 km)
As our trip was coming to a close, we were starting to get a little tired of driving. We had 2 days to go and needed to push on! On our way to our next destination, we passed by a little town called Gary, Indiana. Most of you wouldn’t have heard of this place, but it is famous for being the birthplace of Michael Jackson. The original Jackson house is still standing and you can visit it and see a plaque dedicated to the family’s humble beginnings. If visiting, please be respectful to the local residents.
Onward to Kalamazoo! The reason we picked this destination was the name. Kalamazoo was featured in the original rendition of the song “I’ve Been Everywhere” So now we can proudly say we have been to Kalamazoo.
Road Trip, USA Day 7 – Kalamazoo, MI to Toronto, ON (370 miles, 595 km)
The excitement was building knowing that we were only 6 hours away from our new home. We made our way through the city of Detroit and hit the international border. A city that has seen its fair share of economic turmoil in recent years, the roads are rough, the city has no money for repairs and it can be a struggle dodging potholes. We rocketed through northern Michigan towards the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel. Also known as the Detroit Canada Tunnel it is the second busiest crossing between the USA and Canada. The tunnel stretches 5,160 feet (1,573 m) and is 75 feet (23 m) below the surface of the Detroit River. The crossing will set you back USD $4.50 (autos travelling into USA) USD $5.00 (autos travelling into Canada), with immigration control happening at either side of the tunnel.
Passports stamped we were back in our home, Canada. The first stop we made was Tim Hortons of course! Coffee and donuts had us refueled and on our way to our new home.
A quiet final stretch had us reflecting on a fun journey. Many of the sites had never been high on our must-see list. However, thanks to the functional need to relocate we had experienced new places and people that were fascinating. Sometimes life presents you with opportunities to try new things and expand your worldview. These moments are gifts everyone should look for and be willing to embrace. We so often get focused on the end goal and miss the chance to enrich our experiences along the journey.
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