Buffalo crossing at Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota.
By BOB SAN
AAP staff writer
I love long road trips. I did the Minnesota to Key West and Minnesota to New York City trips in my younger days. A trip I had wanted to do was the drive from the Twin Cities to Seattle. I was finally able to fulfill that dream this summer.
My friend and embarked on a 1,600 trip from St. Paul to Seattle, where we got his truck on a ship to Kaua‘i. That is a long stretch of road and it was an easier and more enjoyable trip together than alone.
We left St. Paul around 3 p.m. on Thursday and discussed the options of taking the northern route through North Dakota to Montana, Idaho and Washington; or the southern route across South Dakota, Wyoming and then north to Montana, Idaho and Washington.
We decided on the shorter northern route that would give us another half day in Seattle. We made a dinner stop at Charlie’s Café in Freeport, Minnesota — just to see the water tower with the smiley face, and then drove all the way to Bismarck where we stayed overnight.
We stopped at Theodore Roosevelt National Park and saw the Badlands of North Dakota. We did just that. We left Bismarck Friday and not long after that we were at the entrance of Badlands at a town called Medora. We had breakfast there and entered the park.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park comprises three geographically separated areas of badlands in western North Dakota. We explored the southern and the biggest unit.
The Badlands were unique with beautiful vistas overlooking rugged landscapes with the Little Missoula River running through them. At various points in the park, we were welcomed by nosy prairie dogs that kept poking their heads out of their ground homes to check us out.
After a few brief views of buffalo on distant hilltops, we didn’t count on seeing anything up close. Then, with just a mile or so to go before we completed our circular drive around the park we came to a halt as four gigantic buffaloes — about seven feet from ground to shoulders, were taking their time grazing and crossing the road. We got really close, too close for comfort for me.
When I saw one of the buffaloes jogging towards me, I hopped back into the safety of the car and didn’t notice I had jumped right out of my sandal on left it behind near the road. I found out I had only one sandal left as we were heading out of the park and we drove back 12 miles to retrieve it.
The badlands were very important in Theodore Roosevelt’s life, and the park memorializes his contributions to the conservation of America’s natural resources with a museum and the Maltese Cross Cabin at the South Unit Visitor Center.
After the Badlands, we drove all the way into Montana. They called it the Big Sky country and I can see why after this trip. The highway is long and straight and you can look straight ahead and the landscape is endless. I94 merges with I90 at Billings and we took I90 all way to Seattle.
If we had more time, I would have loved to make a short detour at Livingston, and head south about 90 miles to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. But choices are many and the time was little. I had already visited the Custer Battlefield at Little Big Horn on a previous trip and we would have gone there again were it not for the additional hours — and so we kept on going with a brief stop Friday at the University of Montana at Missoula. Here, there were scores of people spending the day walking the windy patch on the hill overlooking the very tranquil feeling town.
After a good night sleep in Butte, we headed out and pretty soon we were driving through the western end of Montana. The beautiful scenery continued as we entered Washington State. After Spokane, we were driving through the Cascade Mountain chains and it was one awe-inspiring view after another. We were beginning to realize with every photo of a mountain that there was another one coming up.
We arrived in Seattle on Saturday afternoon. We settled down at the hotel near the airport and headed to Chinatown for dinner. We found a very local noodle shop and had a nice and inexpensive meal.
After a night’s rest we explored Seattle a bit. There are so many things to do and places to visit in the Emerald City. We visited the Museum of Flight, which showcases a collection of more than 150 historic air and spacecraft and related artifacts in unique and inspiring exhibits.
Much of the exhibit has a shared history with the nearby Boeing plant. There was something for everyone to experience in these dynamic displays presenting events that carried Americans from Kitty Hawk to the Moon. There are also tons of displays on the role airplanes played in the various wars and some of history’s most famous fighter pilots.
I enjoyed the displays but the highlight for me was stepping into an old Air Force One. I actually walked in the footsteps of Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon on this presidential 707 jet that was used from 1958 through 1973.
The livery and interior of the Museum’s Air Force One are preserved as originals. I could not help but give the robotic Nixon goodbye wave — even though that was not the plane the disgraced president took for that historic occasion.
Sitting next to Air Force One was a Concorde, the sleek supersonic jetliner that was donated British Airways when it retired the fleet of only twenty planes ever built. Next to these planes was the original 747 that Boeing used as a test plane in the late 1960s.
We spent almost three hours there. After the museum we went to a Seattle Mariner-Florida Marlins baseball game at Safeco Field. As a diehard baseball fan, it was sad to see the sparse crowd at Safeco. The last time I was in Seattle, the Mariners were the talk of baseball as the great Ichiro Suzuki sparked them to a major-league record 116 wins that season.
Safeco was packed and tickets were hot items. Today, the Mariners have become a sorry franchise. Even Ichiro, a sure first-ballot Hall of Famer, has finally shown signs of decline and looks very ordinary on this day.
We found out that this was the “U2 game.” I noticed that the Mariners were batting in the top of the first inning – when the home team should bat at the bottom of the inning. This was baffling and I asked another fan who said that this was a game originally scheduled to be played in Florida, but was cancelled because of a U2 concert and they played the game in Seattle instead — with Florida as the home team.
Seattle won the game but we must have brought them bad luck because not long after the game they went on a 17-game losing streak.
On Monday we did something I had wanted to do for more than 30 years — pay a visit to the grave of martial arts and movie legend Bruce Lee.
As a kid growing up in Hong Kong, Lee was more than a movie star, he was a cult hero and cultural icon. Even though he did not make it big in the United States, Lee eventually achieved international fame through his Hong Kong movies. I was awed not only by his kung fu prowess but more so by his philosophy on kung fu and life.
Lee died in 1973 at age 33. I had wanted to visit his grave and pay my respect for many years and this trip allowed me to do so. I got lost trying to find the cemetery but it turned out to be okay because we got to see various neighborhoods in Seattle.
It seemed appropriate that on the day we visited Lee’s grave, the weather was cloudy with a light rain. Lee’s grave, which sits next to the grave of his son Brandon, who was killed in a movie set accident in 1993 at age 28, is undistinguishable and almost hidden by bushes and a bench — except for the Buddhist passage inscribed on it in Chinese. True to his philosopher reputation, the messages read:
Limited is limitless
There are paths out of no path
That evening we went back to Chinatown for our farewell dinner. We had a sumptuous meal for under $40. On this visit, I was pleasantly surprised by how good and inexpensive Chinese foods are in Seattle’s Chinatown.
Tuesday was farewell day to my friend who flew to Hawai‘i. I stayed in Seattle for a couple more days. It was a wonderful trip, a trip I highly recommend.