The Road Less Traveled

One of Robert Frost’s most famous lines resonated with us this week: “Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by.” Like Frost, we have been taking the road less traveled by for many days now. And if you look at our route map you’ll notice that in addition to taking the road less traveled we’re also taking the road less direct.

We spent the last three days in Towner, North Dakota, which was not really on our way east, especially since we were in Denver last week. But one of the best parts of this trip is that we’re in no hurry to get here or there or anywhere. We’re not looking for the fastest, most direct, most efficient route. We’re looking for the most interesting one. Which is exactly how we ended up spending the 4th of July in Towner, North Dakota. But first, let’s go back to Nebraska.

We left Fort Robinson on Sunday morning and headed north out of Nebraska into South Dakota. We had a fairly easy driving day because we had already put in a lot of miles the day before. We arrived  at the Lake Park Campground in Rapid City around noon, set up camp and then headed off to see Mount Rushmore.

Neither one of us was overly eager to see Mount Rushmore, we put it on the list because it’s one of those things that you’re supposed to see and we were going to be driving right by it anyway. But when we arrived, we were surprised at how incredible it actually is to see it in person. First, it’s incredible that someone came up with the idea to carve the likenesses of four U.S. presidents (Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, Lincoln) into a section of granite in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Second, it’s incredible that these faces are 60-feet tall and look so much like the men themselves. Third, it’s incredible that a team of more than 400 artists pulled this off in the 1920s and 1930s using dynamite, among other tools, to carve the rock and they managed to work as a team to bring it all together. It’s a beautiful piece of art and we definitely recommend that you check it out if you ever get the opportunity (like the next time you just happen to be passing through South Dakota).

After leaving Mount Rushmore we headed over to the Crazy Horse Memorial, which is only about 17 miles further down the road. The memorial was started in 1948 and is not even close to being finished yet but is already touted on the Crazy Horse website as ‘the world’s largest mountain carving’. If it does actually get completed someday it will probably be very impressive, but we weren’t impressed with having to pay $10 each just to get into the visitor’s center, which is over a mile from the worksite. Fortunately Kevin’s camera has a good zoom. Tip: the view you get of Crazy Horse before you pay the entry fee is exactly the same view you get 10 feet later after you pay the entry fee. That’s as close as you’re going to get. Save yourself some money, get a camera with a good zoom and take a picture from outside the gates.

We worked from Rapid City on Monday and then put in a few miles after work, heading east through Badlands National Park to Pierre, South Dakota. Like Mount Rushmore, the Badlands are a must-see. At some moments during the drive it felt like we were on the moon. It’s a very unique landscape that starts out of nowhere and then stops just as suddenly. From farmland to the moon and back, all in a matter of hours.

We both took Tuesday off from work and put in another long day on the road. We left the great little campsite we had at Farm Island State Park in Pierre and headed north for 300 miles. We drove north and then we drove north some more and then we continued driving north until we reached our destination: Towner, North Dakota.

Why drive 300 miles to a town no one’s heard of? Because it’s the cattle capitol of North Dakota, that’s why. Who doesn’t want to go to Towner? No, actually the Towner discussion all started at a birthday party in April. We were in El Dorado Hills, California, at the home of Suzanne’s cousins Pat and Dennis. It was Dennis’ 70th birthday and we got to talking to their friends Leslie and David over a glass of wine. Suzanne had met Leslie and David on several occasions over the years but didn’t know them very well. The conversation turned to bees and Kevin’s attention was piqued. Kevin had recently developed an interest in bees and Leslie and David had recently purchased an apiary that was based in Waterford, CA and Towner, ND. (Don’t worry, Suzanne had to look up apiary too. An apiary, as described by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is: ‘a place where bees are kept, especially a collection of hives or colonies of bees kept for their honey.’)

Our memories of the conversation are a little hazy so we’re not sure if Leslie and David actually invited us to visit Towner during the RV trip or if we just imagined that they did. Either way, we reached out to cousin Pat a few weeks ago to get Leslie’s email address and sent her a note asking if we could stop by to see the bees.  She said yes and off we went to Towner. That’s where this happened:

David let us tag along one morning when he and his crew went to visit one of their yards. Kevin had been doing his bee homework leading up to this visit and knew a lot about what was taking place, Suzanne knew nothing about what was taking place but does now. In the interest of keeping this blog post to a reasonable length (which we probably exceeded several paragraphs ago) we will forego all of the details, but feel free to send us a note if you have any questions. Here are three things you need to know:

1. It isn’t all about the honey. Without bees we would either have none of these foods or very expensive versions of these foods (click here to see the list).

2. Because of the need for pollination in agriculture, humans transport bees all over the country. This is called migratory beekeeping.

3. Being the queen bee isn’t as glamorous as it sounds.

In addition to letting us satisfy Kevin’s curiosity of bees for a day, Leslie and David took us to the Towner Street Dance on Tuesday night when we got to town. They took us to the pancake breakfast at the volunteer fire department the next morning, as well as the 4th of July Parade and the Towner Rodeo in the afternoon. As if that wasn’t enough, they had us over for a delicious homecooked dinner served on their back deck, along with a few glasses of wine made by their son Ryan, a winemaker who lives and works in Napa Valley, CA (which is where Leslie and David live most of the year). It was a really special couple of days thanks to Leslie and David and it was a great place to celebrate the 4th of July.

Towner is the kind of place where you can sleep with your windows open, you can let your kids roam around town without fear that something will happen to them, you can leave your doors unlocked when you leave your house, you can walk everywhere you need to go and everyone in town knows everyone else and all of their relatives. But, even if they don’t know you, they’ll still talk to you on the street or help you if you need something. There is one grocery store, one bank, no ATM, two bars, one post office and just one restaurant that serves one thing each day. The menu is published in the paper each week so people know what’s being served. If you don’t like meatloaf then don’t go on meatloaf night because that’s all you’re getting. With all that’s wrong with the world today, Towner is one place that has many things right, with two of those things being community and kindness.

We say good bye to Towner with fond memories and will continue to take the road less traveled, as well as the road less direct. We’re heading a little bit east and then will start heading south again next week. As the saying goes, it isn’t about the destination, it’s about the journey. We’re five weeks into this journey and are grateful for what we’ve experienced so far and look forward to what lies ahead. See you on down the road.

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4 thoughts on “The Road Less Traveled

  1. ” It was Dennis’ 70th birthday and we got to talking to their friends Leslie and David over a glass of wine. ” “A glass of wine??” I seem to remember it was more than a glass. Glad you got to spend time with our really good friends.
    Dennis and Pat

  2. Steve’s super jealous about the rodeo. And this is my favorite line from this blog: Tip: the view you get of Crazy Horse before you pay the entry fee is exactly the same view you get 10 feet later after you pay the entry fee.

    Katie and I, while driving across the country in…2000…stopped at Mt. Rushmore. Having just graduated from college, the entry/parking fee seemed like far too much money at the time. So we had to pull in to turn back around and leave. We took a minute to stop, get out, snap a photo in front of what we could see of Mt. Rushmore and zoomed on outta there!

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