Montana Road Trip Journal

by David Kravetz

June 15, 2005: Today we departed on our trip to Great Falls, Montana for Amaree's wedding, the second in a string of 3 weddings in 8 weeks.  Accompanying me in the trip is Seth, Solomon and Marissa, who will be married on the 25th of June in Louisville, which is in 10 days.  Our Road Trip will comprise about 4500 miles as we drive north thru Indiana and Illinois and then across Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota and into Montana.  Our return will be a similar trip, except thru a corner of Wyoming and then across South Dakota and then Minnesota and Wisconsin.  A general map of the trip can be seen below:

My goal was to leave at 5:30 since we have such a long trip ahead of us.  However, we got out at 6:00 AM.  Then, we had to stop at Wal-Mart to get some new tennis shoes for me since I blew my others ones out yesterday.  After Wal-Mart, we made a quick stop at McDonald's for breakfast and then headed on the road.

Before I go into detail about the trip, I need to make a special note of gratitude to Randy O'Neal and his wife.  Randy works with me at Lexmark.  We have worked in the same are for nearly five years.  Anyway, last Sunday Randy called me out of the blue.  I was curious why he would call me on a Sunday and wondered if there was a work emergency that came up.  In the long run Randy told me that he and his wife would like to offer us the use of their conversion van for the long trip.  They felt that this was probably the best gift they could give for these weddings and that it would fill a big need since he knew we were planning on renting a car for the trip.  I told him how far we were going and that I would feel bad if anything happened.  But, he continued to press and so I graciously accepted.  This was such an extremely kind and thoughtful act on the part of Randy and his wife.  I know that this will make the trip more comfortable for all of us.  Below is a picture of the van:

We finally got on the road at about 6:45 after taking care of all the errands.  We headed west through Versailles and then onto I-64 towards Louisville.  We then headed north on I-65 through Indianapolis and on up to Gary, Indiana.  By the time we got to Gary it was already 11:45 AM.  My goal was to be in Chicago at our first stop by 10:00.  But, due to traffic and a late start, we were already way behind.

Nonetheless, I was thrilled to be on the road.  I had not taken a road trip like this for a couple of years and love to get out and see the countryside and the personality of these United States and all that is offered.  I kind of themed our trip to see the 'Wacky and Wonderful'.  We would be going across the Northern states to Montana and they are fairly well known for a number of cheesy and interesting sites (and in the case of Wisconsin--REAL Cheesy).  I spent alot of time scheduling out all of the sites, most of which would be free.  But, we also had a tight schedule to keep since we had to make it to Great Falls by late Thursday night.  So, we really had to push it.

Our first planned stop was in Chicago, at Millennium Park.  We finally pulled into the underground parking lot in downtown Chicago at 12:54 PM, basically three hours later than planned.  The traffic was TERRIBLE into Chicago.  There were instances that we didn't even move along Lake Shore Drive.  But, I wanted to at least get to Millennium Park.  I had read about it in the AAA Magazine and thought it would match our theme.  I also felt that this would be a great point for all of us to get out and stretch and walk a bit.

  

Chicago traffic was terrible.  The parking garage on the right is just one of many novelty sites on this trip.

Millennium Park is right in the center of downtown Chicago, on the location of Grant Park.  It is a 24.5 acre park that features some fabulous art and architecture.  I will not go into the history of the park here, but instead will provide a link to the park's website:

Millennium Park

My hopes in visiting the park were to see the three main works: The Crown Fountain, the Jay Pritzker Pavilion and the Kapoor sculpture, entitled "Cloud Gate".

Our first stop was the Crown Fountain.  The fountain consists of two 50-foot glass block towers at each end of a shallow reflecting pool. The towers project video images from a broad social spectrum of Chicago citizens (apparently over 1000 subjects were videoed), a reference to the traditional use of gargoyles in fountains, where faces of mythological beings were sculpted with open mouths to allow water, a symbol of life, to flow out.  I was excited to see the fountains and see how the faces were projected on to them. More details about the fountains can be found here: The Crown Fountain

Here we are visiting Crown Fountain:

  

On the left, Seth and Solomon get a toothy grin.  Missy and I are on the right looking at the "gargoyle"

The fountains are actually kind of freaky.  The subjects were video-taped, so they blink, move their mouths, etc.  It is as if the structures are alive.

Our next stop on the park was a stroll over to the Jay Pritzker Pavilion.  To me this looks very similar to the Sydney Opera House in architectural design.  Details about the pavilion can be seen here: Jay Pritzker Pavilion

The Pavilion is a concert venue that stands about 120 feet high.  The stage is surrounded by a number of brushed steel ribbons.  I guess they call this the "headdress".  There is a large lawn in front of it that makes this much like an amphitheater.  While we were here, there was an orchestra and choir rehearsing for an upcoming concert.  It was pretty unique.

  

Here we are on the Great Lawn under the overhead trellis

Our next visit in the park was to the "Cloud Gate".  This is a large silver sculpture that looks like a drop of mercury.  Unfortunately, we could not see it in its entirety as much of it was covered for repair work.  Here is a link to more details about the sculpture by artist Anish Kapoor: Cloud Gate on SBC Plaza

Despite the construction, we were able to get some pictures as one side of it was open.  It was pretty neat to take the pictures with a backdrop of the city behind us.  Here we are at Cloud Gate:

If you look carefully, you can see me in the middle taking the picture...to the left of Seth's head.

 

A couple more photos of the park

We spent about an hour at the park.  It was a refreshing experience and a nice break.  But, we needed to get back on the road as we had a lot of ground to cover.  I was quite disappointed that we were so far behind schedule.  One of the other sites that I really, really, really wanted to see was the Cermak Plaza, famous for the Cars on a Spike.  Since we didn't get there, I don't have photos.  But here is a link: Spindle   Another place I had hoped to see was the Leaning Tower of Niles...Niles, Illinois that is.  But, time did not allow for that either.  But, here is a link: Leaning Tower of Niles, Illinois  Hopefully, on my next Road Trip to Montana to see Amaree and Aaron we can hit those sites.

We finally got back on the road at about 2 PM and continued to head north towards Wisconsin.  Along I-90 we must have hit 5 or 6 toll stations.  What a pain.  All totaled, we spent $11.00 on tolls between Gary, IN and the Wisconsin border.

We drove up I-90 through Madison, WI and then took exit 126 to DeForest, WI, which was our next scheduled stop.  The first stop was the Ehlenbach Cheese Chalet, famous for its cheese and also famous for its large Holstein Cow statue in the front of the shop.  Here we are in Wisconsin:

  

Of course, besides a nice bag of cheese curds, the real goal here was to see Sissy the Cow:

 

Sissy the Cow is NOT wearing the tie dye shirt!!!  I did say there were some cheesy things in Wisconsin!!

Sissy is 19 feet tall, 20 feet long, and two tons -- a Holstein cow made of structural steel and fiber mixed with epoxy.  She used to be known as the World's Largest Cow, along with her sister Chatty Belle in nearby Janesville, WI.  However, as you will see, she is now nowhere near the world's largest.

Another site we planned on just down the road from Sissy, in fact, at the same exit, is Pinky the Elephant.  This was Marissa's hope and dream to see Pinky.  Pinky is one of three or four of these bespectacled Pink Elephants dotting the United States.  I think there is one in Tennessee, one in Illinois and one in Georgia.  However, due to its proximity with Sissy, this one is probably the most famous.  Here are some shots of Pinky and Missy:

 

 

Missy gave Pinky a love pat on the rear.  And yes...you can EVEN buy souvenir stickers of Pinky for a quarter!!

After our little venture into DeForest, it was time for us to head west towards Minnesota.  There were many other places along the way that we wanted to see, but time was a factor for us as we needed to get to St. Cloud, Minnesota in time for dinner at a special place.

We cruised across the state and got to the Mississippi River at about 7:15 PM, still about 3 hours behind schedule.  This was really disappointing to me here as well.  I had hoped to get to Darwin, MN to see the Largest Ball of Twine made by one person.  But, since we couldn't make it this time, I will at least put a link to it: World's Largest Ball of Twine.  There are other Balls of Twine out there as evidenced by this site: World's Largest Twine Balls.  I hope to get to all of them some time.

  

Solomon at the Minnesota border.  The kids with the Mississippi River behind them.

But, despite missing the twine ball, I was very determined to get to Space Aliens Grill and Bar in Waite Park, MN, just outside of St. Cloud.  We were all hungry and we had to push it to get there, which we finally did at 10:00 PM.  Thank goodness they close at 11:00 PM (I did my research in advance so I knew this!!).  It was great to get there when we did too.  It was a Wednesday and that meant All-You-Can-Eat Ribs.  The boys were thrilled.

I wanted to go to Space Aliens either here or in Fargo, but didn't think we could make it all the way to Fargo.  This is one of those novelty theme restaurants as can be seen below.  Here is a link to their web site: Space Aliens Grill & Bar

The Waite Park restaurant was not difficult to locate.  We got there and all Seth and Solomon could say was "Let's Eat!!"  I don't think I need to say anything about the restaurant except that the ribs were fantastic.  The boys ate a ton of ribs, in fact, the waitress said she could not recall any group having as many as we did.  The photos below should tell it all:

 

Outside the restaurant.  Notice that Earhtlings are Welcome at this place.

 

Seth at the 'UFO Crossing'.                              Some of the typical artwork

The ceiling artwork

     

Now this is what we came for!!  All-You-Can-Eat Ribs.  The boys set a record at this place and also wiped out the ribs.

   

Empty bones and plates, but full tummies and smiling faces after a well-eaten meal!!

After a great dinner, and our first real meal of the day, we were ready to crash.  We found a nearby motel and did just that.  A long, long day 1 of the trip to Montana was finally over.

Day 2   Days 3/4  Day 5  Day 6

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