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Cross-Country Trip to Minnesota, 1988


Original Article and Photographs by Kenneth A. Larson © 2008 - 2017

It was the summer of 1988. My father wanted to take a road trip to his home state of Minnesota. I was vacillating on going because for three months I had been working for someone who promised to pay toward my medical through my union, "... starting next week." Finally I was informed that I would not receive my medical on this job, so I called my father and said, "I'm going." My father, brother, and I left 1988 Taurus
My brand new 1988 Taurus, my first new car.
on July 24th in my brand new 1988 Torus wagon, my first new car. My father's reason for going was his 50th high school reunion. My reason for going was, as always, to take photographs.

We left about 4:00 am. I love driving through the Mojave Desert before sunrise. From Los Angeles, where I live, you can see about 5 stars on a clear night. Go 50 miles north into the desert, and you can see millions of stars. We stopped at a rest stop in the Mojave desert and I shot a few photos of the surrounding mountains.

We crossed the state line into Nevada about mid-morning and stopped in Las Vegas for gasoline and breakfast. Las Vegas is a destination for millions of fun seekers, but we were just passing through. It was about 10 am and already very hot. I'm not much for restaurant breakfasts, but my father and brother enjoyed their's and then we were back on the road. Interstate 15 crosses through the northwest corner of Arizona for about 20 miles before entering Utah. Don't worry, well come back to Arizona later. Now, into Utah.

Our route through Utah was on a general northerly corse along Highway 15 and we only made one side trip in Utah. There was a new road into the north-west corner of Zion National Park, a previously inaccessible section called the Kolob Canyons. A few quick shots and we were on our way again. Utah passed slowly as we drove through mile Kolob Canyons, Zion National Park
Kolob Canyons, Zion National Park. This section had recently opened.
after mile of open range land. We had planned to enter Wyoming from the south but had to modify our plans because the road was closed due to the bad forest fires that year. Instead we swung around into Idaho to enter Wyoming from the west. I had missed a turn in the dark and drove about 20 minutes before realizing and turning around. My father was upset, but it's easy to do in the dark in an unfamiliar area and a road undergoing maintenance. We found a motel in Pocatello, Idaho to spend our first night on the west border of Yellowstone National Park. The first day ended with us almost half way to Minnesota. I drove about one thousand miles in about 18 hours. The next three days would be required to travel the remaining half.

The second day (July 25th) began early and within a short time, we entered Yellowstone National Park, the nation's first National Park. Yellowstone Park sits atop a stationary hot spot in the Earth. As the North American plate slowly moves northwest, the continental plate passes over the hot spot leaving a chain of extinct volcanos extending from the Pacific Ocean to Yellowstone. It is this hot spot that makes the famous geysers, mineral pools, and mud pots of this magnificent national park. Yellowstone also sits atop a massive overdue volcano, so don't wait too long to visit, it might all disappear soon.

We spent most of the day crossing the park and stopping often at the natural wonders of the park. Shortly after entering the park, we observed elk and bison along side the road, grazing near a river. These magnificent animals ignored us, knowing they are safe within the park. At Madison, we turned south to Old Faithful Geyser. Old Faithful Geyser may be Old Faithful Geyser, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Old Faithful Geyser, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.
faithful (plus or minus a half hour), but it still erupts when it wants to. Fortunately, we were just settling in for the wait that can be over an hour when our short wait was over. The eruption lasts a few minutes, so there was time to take a number of photos. From here, we backtracked to Geyser Basin, Hot Pools, Paint Pots and to Gibbons Fall and to Mammoth Hot Springs with its beautiful and fascinating limestone deposits.

It was near Mammoth Hot Springs that my brother and I saw a sign that seemed interesting. My father didn't like us turning around to go back, but I was driving and we paid a quick visit to an area that I had never known of before. It was a small area filled with extinct dried out geysers and springs. The mineral structures were left high and dry when the thermal forces shifted to another location. It was a short but worthwhile detour. We made a number of stops at other springs and mud pots as we traveled east.

We next traveled southeast to see the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, considered by many to be the most beautiful spot in the park. For millions of years, the river has cut deep into the yellow rock that gave Yellowstone Park its name. The canyon includes several spectacular waterfalls. We saw a moose across the river, more a spec in my photos, and more bison. We headed east and around the north side of Yellowstone Lake and then east toward Cody.

Parts of the park were on fire that summer and many of my photos had smoke filled skies in the background. The fires were unusually severe that season and the government policies toward forest fire management were called into debate. The fires continued as we traveled east on Interstate 14.

We left the park late in the afternoon and continued east, reaching Cody, Wyoming by early evening. There are a number of historic sites and museums in and around Cody, including the Buffalo Bill Historical Center. We had visited this wonderful museum on a previous trip while waiting for a car repair, but this time, it was closed for the day and the new car was running great. We found a Chines restaurant for dinner. Here in Los Angeles, it's common to eat with chop sticks in an Asian restaurant, but I got the feeling that I was the first customer to have ask in a while. We found a motel and the night was uneventful and we continued our travels early the following morning.

The third day began early as we traveled east on Highway 90. I would have liked to have stopped at Devels Tower about an hour drive south, but we were on a schedule. I had seen it in the early 1970s, before it became famous as a location for Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Early on the third day, we crossed into South Dakota. We visited Jewel Cave which is possibly more beautiful that Carlsbad Caverns, but not nearly as large. There were many unusual formations and I took some potentially beautiful photos, but I'll never know, the roll of film was in a storage container that tore off my camera strap and was lost in the swamp a few days later.

Jewel Cave is in the Black Hills along with Mount Rushmore and the famous rock carvings of the four US presidents, Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln. The sculptures, completed in 1939, originally were predicted to last for the ages but are now in danger of erosion from water freezing in the cracks. The Black Hills were sacred to the Soux but the US Mount Rushmore
Mount Rushmore, US presidents, Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln.
military drove them out. We didn't have time to stop at Custer State Park where General Custer paid the price for his military arrogance. We took a quick look from the car at another giant sculpture, this time to Chief Crazy Horse. It is a work in progress that was begun in 1949 by sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski who died in 1982. The work continues with no set completion date.

The third day of our journey was nearing the end when an hour or so more driving brought us to Rapid City, South Dakota. We had passed through Rapid City many times in the past, even spent the night, but never had time to visit the dinosaur park on the hill on the west side of town. This time we arrived in town early enough to finally see Dinosaur Park. I am a Dinosaur Park, Rapid City, South Dakota
Dinosaur Park, Rapid City, South Dakota.
dinosaur fan and very much enjoyed this park filled with full size concrete dinosaur sculptures. As a dinosaur myself, I wanted to visit these dinosaurs. I am told that more dinosaurs have been added since, so I need to go back to make sure. This was the year of the great fires and it seemed that half the population of Rapid City had come to the park for a view of the distant fires. The deep red sunset and smoked filled skies made a surreal background for my photos. Rapid City was were we spent the third night.

Our forth day (July 27, 1988) began in Rapid City and ended in the Twin Cities. In two previous trips, we had traveled this distance in three days, but fortunately, we took an extra day this time and saw more. There are other things to do in Rapid City, but we needed to hit the road early for our last day of our four day drive to Minnesota. A bit east of Rapid City, we drove through Badlands National Park. This is a dry region that has Badlands National Park, Saouth Dakota
Badlands National Park, Saouth Dakota.
been heavily and deeply eroded by rain producing oddly shaped structures. I was surprised upon close inspection to discover that the material isn't hard rock, but only hard dry dirt and is quite soft. In geologic terms, it probably won't be here long, maybe a few million years.

We could not drive though this part of South Dakota without stopping at Wall Drug Store in the town of Wall. In December of 1931, Ted and Dorothy Hustead opened a drug store in the small town of Wall. Business was slow and finally Dorothy came upon the idea of offering free ice water to the parched depression era travelers. People stopped, the fame grew, and signs proclaim the wonders of Wall Drug about a lightyear in all directions. The drug store now rambles over several blocks of downtown Wall. My only fear is that someday, Wal*Mart will drive them from business.

The rest of South Dakota and western Minnesota flew by as we continued east on Highway 90 and by late afternoon we had arrived in the Twin Cities, so named because these two cities, Minneapolis and Saint Paul, are about equal in size and sit across the Mississippi River from one another. (July 27, 1988) We stayed a few days with my aunt in St. Paul, Minnesota.

We spent 5 days in Minnesota. My Mother's family is mostly around the Twin Cities, but since she wasn't along on this trip, we spent only a day or two visiting relatives on my Mother's side. The rest of the time we spent around Mille Lacs Lake where my Father's relatives were clustered.

(July 28, 1988) My cousin took us to Como Park Zoo. My 18-year-old memories of the zoo were not good and I was pleasantly surprised to see that it had improved greatly. It is not a large zoo, but worth the stop.

(July 29, 1988) After a short time in the Twin Cities, we headed north to the Mille Lac Lake area. We drove to Lake Itasca, the headwaters of the Mississippi River. At this point, the river is only a few feet wide and can be crossed on stones or a single split log bridge. The river twists so much at first, you cross it a few times just walking from the parking lot. I returned to the parking lot to Lake Itasca and the headwaters of the Mississippi River
Lake Itasca and the headwaters of the Mississippi River.
discover a flat tire on my new car - it was a nail. Once repaired, we continued to Brainerd where there is a small theme park called Paul Bunyon. There is a giant Babe the Blue Ox in front and Paul himself sits in a large log shelter and greets guests. There are the usual rides and fun houses, but it's Paul that makes it special. (Although I haven't confirmed it, I understand that Paul Bunyan Amusement Center closed in 2003, but everything was moved seven miles east on highway 18.)

(July 30) We spent some time at Mille Lac Lake, the third largest lake in the state of "ten thousand lakes." The lake is roughly a big circle about 20 miles across, surrounded with vacation homes and Indian reservations. In my Father's time, it was pretty much open beach. The Fourth of July fireworks display over the lake near Garrison is beautiful, but we were a few weeks late for that.

(July 31, 1988) We spent a day on the old family farm. My cousin sold it a few years earlier and it was then unoccupied. I had visited several times when I was younger and had fond memories, so it was sad to see it alone. The farm covered 160 acres including a few acres of woods and a swamp. This is where I lost the film of Jewel Cave, somewhere in the swamp.


Larson farm.
We visited a few relatives and a fort called the Trading Post although I can now find no information on it.

(August 1, 1988) After a few days, we return south. We visited the famous Minnihaha Falls, which because of the drought in the region that summer, was only a small trickle.

(August 2) We visited Saint Michael where my Mother was born and raised. They say "You can't go home again." This was the last time that I saw Saint Michael the way I remembered it from my childhood visits. When I next visited Saint Michael ten years later, it had changed so much it made me sad. No longer a quiet farm town, it is now a suburb of the Twin Cities. We stopped at the church and a group was praying for rain. These were still farmers and it had been a dry summer. Mother's farm
Farm where my Mother grew up.

The first day (August 3, 1988) of our return, we left Minnesota early and quickly passed through Iowa and then Nebraska. We made no stops other than for gas and food, and I only shot a few quick photos. We ended the day in Denver, Colorado having climbed to the height of the "Mile high" city so slowly from the east, we hadn't noticed. It would be different tomorrow.

The second day (8-4-88) of our return, we drove west from Denver. There was a massive road construction project as a major highway modernization was occurring, including double decking part of Highway I-70 through a narrow pass. Once through the construction area, traffic improved and we continued west from Colorado through to Utah. We left I-70 and took
Highway 128, a small road that followed the Colorado River for a time affording some wonderful vistas. The road ended at Moab, Utah and we entered Arches National Park. Arches was used a few years later for another Spielberg film, the third Indiana Jones movie. Arches is a beautiful place with numerous natural arches carved by wind over millennium. There were balancing rocks and all the clichés of the west, only it's real. I would have liked to have stayed longer, but the clock was running and we needed to continue south through eastern Utah. We drove south along Highway 163 in eastern Utah. It was
River Rafting on the Colorado River.

Wilson Arch, south of Arches National Park.
getting to be late afternoon and starting to darken as we drove through Monument Valley. The sun was setting before we cleared the valley and I do hoped to return to this famous and magical valley.

It was dark as we crossed the Utah/Arizona border and headed to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Throughout the entire trip, my Father had the idea that we needed to sleep in the car at night to save money. I always pushed to stay in a motel. Well, he got his wish the night we arrived a little south of the Grand Canyon. There was no place to stay and the man at the campland let us park free since we didn't need any services.
Grand Canyon at sunrise.

I slept in the driver's seat and awoke the third day of our return about 4:00 AM. I started driving and reached the South Rim of the Grand Canyon about an hour before dawn. We then watched the sun slowly rise over the Grand Canyon. Every few minutes, the lighting was breathtakingly different. It was well worth the discomfort of sleeping in the car that one night. We had been to the Grand Canyon several times before, but I never saw it at sunrise before. Again, I would have liked to had spent more time here, but we needed to drive the rest of the way home today, so back on the road again, west along Highway 40.

We then took a short side trip to Lake Havasu where London Bridge was rebuilt after being taken-down in London. The lake is artificial, a product of damming the Colorado River. A small London theme collection of shops is clustered on the Arizona side. From here, we continued west into California, crossing on an ordinary bridge a few miles north of the famous bridge.

We were now in the California desert and made a side trip the Joshua Tree National Park. Joshua Trees are unique to this region and the park has thousands of them along with rock formations. We could only drive through a small section before heading on.

My father never liked Highway 10, so we traveled north into the Mojave Desert to enter Los Angeles County from the north. We arrived home late in the day (8-5-88) where my 4-month old puppy was waiting. I drove 5,000 miles in my new car and the entire trip took 12 days, 4 days going, 3 days coming back, 5 days in Minnesota. In later years, I revisited some of these sites and hope to revisit more.

Joshua Tree National Park.


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