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Destination Alaska Part IX: A 66-Day Trek to the Last Frontier

Petrified Wood, Prehistoric Mud and 1,067 Gallons of Gasoline

Petrified Wood Park, Lemmon, S.D. (Sheryl Gallup photo) Petrified Wood Park, Lemmon, S.D. (Sheryl Gallup photo)

By: Sheryl Gallup

This is the final of a nine-part series

Click here for Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI | Part VII | Part VIII

Monday, August 5, 2013

When we started this trip, we decided we wanted to make it a journey. The journey, from the very beginning, has been about seeing America from the road. But, we didn't want to see it in the usual way. We could have rushed through the early part of the trip by staying on the interstate, but our odometer has been rolling steadily because, as much as possible, we took the secondary roads. All the little towns, historical markers, scenic byways, museums, and tourist attractions were such an important part of our quest for adventure.

Sunday morning we left Cody Wyoming and made up some time by driving the interstate. After100 miles or so, our wandering spirits made it an easy decision to get off the hustle and bustle of the busy interstate. At Miles City, we chose a more direct route home on U.S. Highway 12 that not only would shave about 300 miles off our trip, but also provide something far more scenic than what you can see from a major interstate highway. U.S. Highway 12 is called the Yellowstone Trail because it used to be the most traveled route from the east to go to Yellowstone. It has already been an interesting choice for us and we are enjoying it as we continue our journey to get home to be with family.

Near Miles City, Montana, the Yellowstone Trail is still in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. The terrain was craggy and hilly, but as we continued east into North Dakota, the landscape kept changing from mountains, to buttes, and gorgeous rock formations that reminded us of the Badlands. The further east we traveled on Highway 12, the more the landscape changed. Once we got into South Dakota, we went through one cute little community after another, crossed over creeks and rivers, and then we found we were driving by fields of green agriculture that went as far as the eye could see. Woodzjoe and I both love forests and water, but to experience the vastness of these croplands is pretty impressive as well.

Yellowstone Trail Highway 12

In an absolutely charming little community called Lemmon, South Dakota, we discovered, quite by chance, the World's Largest Petrified Wood Park. For a rock hound like me, I felt like I had struck the Mother Lode! The rock sculptures were all part of the Grand River Museum, which pays tribute to the Grand River National Grassland Region which is a 154,783-acre area in northwestern South Dakota where the north and south forks of the Grand River meet in the grassland.

The Petrified Wood Park was the vision of O.S. Quammen, who was fascinated by the 50-million-year-old fossilized remains of the petrified wood, flora and fauna he located in the Grand River area. With assistance from government geologists, the remains were identified and studied. In the early 1930s, Quammen began to build the Petrified Wood Park in the center of town for people traveling through Lemmon to stop and enjoy. He chose only the finest specimens and used them to build cones, structures, and a castle. Also, among his finds were “cannonballs” which are rounded rocks made from prehistoric mud. They naturally rise to the surface making them easier to remove.

Petrified Wood Park, Lemmon, S.D.

Quammen had three goals in mind when he decided to build the park. First, to broaden his knowledge of his geology hobby, extend the studies of the remains that were found, and lastly, to provide work for many men who were jobless during the drought and depression times. The project was started in 1930 and completed in 1932.

Notice the “cannonballs” in the forefront. Petrified Wood Park, Lemmon, S.D.

We walked among the specimens of petrified wood and were impressed by how different each of them was by shape, size and the rock itself. Some of the pieces weigh over 10,000 pounds and it made us respect even more the commitment that Quammen and his crew made to erect this park.

Petrified Mud, Petrified Wood Park, Lemmon, S.D.

Monday, August 12, 2013

We arrived home last week from our adventure and between time spent with family, and unpacking and cleaning out the trailer, it has been a hectic week. I am glad to be home … sort of. We probably have all had that experience of coming home from a trip and being glad that you are home and then after a couple of days you wish you were still on the road. Once I could see for myself that the house and yard were fine and had visited with family and friends, I found that I was homesick for the vagabond lifestyle of the past two months.

If you haven't already figured it out, Woodzjoe has a tendency to “overthink” every task at hand. It was handy, most of the time that he had our entire trip planned out and he had a schedule. Fortunately, he also is flexible, so we were able to deviate from the plan and the schedule to add excitement to our trip. What I didn't know is that while I was blogging and keeping up with client work, he was tracking distance, mileage and many other calculations. So, out of respect for the time he put into it, (and honestly, because it is kind of cool to have this information) I am sharing his “research” with you. Over 66 days on our journey we:

• Drove 11,101 miles
• Traveled through seven states and three Canadian provinces
• Burned 1,067 gallons of gasoline
• Had 272.6 engine hours

He further broke it down to determine that on average we spent 4.1 hours a day traveling (obviously, some days longer and some days shorter), we averaged 40 miles per hour due primarily to the roads that were so horrific we could only drive about 15-30 miles per hour, and we averaged 10.4 miles per gallon. The statistics are interesting, but clearly, Woodzjoe had too much time on his hands and I should have asked him do all the cooking and dishes too.

The trip was just as Woodzjoe promised it would be; it was an adventure. I told him several times while we were traveling that he was right and I was wrong. It is indeed the journey not the destination.

My best advice is that everyone should do a trip like this at least once in your lifetime. Take a leave of absence, retire, if between jobs, but somehow, some way figure out a way to pack up and go explore what this great country has to offer. There is great history here and whether you find it in books, museums or in pictures, there is nothing like experiencing it firsthand. Look beyond the obvious landmarks and learn about how the small communities, the various cultures and the brave men and women who blazed trails really contributed to the building of our nation. Talk to the locals and look into the history of the towns you pass through. As I said at the beginning of this blog, everyone has a story to share. This blog was my story. I hope you enjoyed it.

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