Driveabout 2007
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Below is the complete set of daily emails from our cross country trip.  The yet to be completed google maps version can be found here:   Driveabout


First day of trip

Hi all,


Well, in true Josh & Denise style, we left Hollis yesterday at around 5:00 p.m. to START our trip – having no idea where we are heading, except that we wanted to go west.  So, we got in the truck with the camper in tow and headed to our local sub shop (we’d been so busy packing and organizing that we hadn’t eaten lunch).  With our subs in our laps, we headed west on Route 130 toward the Mass Pike. 


Finally, at the rest stop on the Pike just outside of Springfield (about 7:15 p.m.) we began thinking about where to stay.  I had sort of thought we’d try for Lake George area, but it was too far north; then I thought maybe we’d make it to around Cooperstown, but that was too far southwest; so, looking through the Woodall’s Camping Guide, and being a new and proud KOA member, we located a KOA campground in Saugerties/Woodstock, NY, which is just on the eastern edge of the Catskills.  After reaching it campground’s answering machine several times (the office closes at 8:00 p.m.; it is now 7:45 p.m.) and unsuccessfully trying to book online (can’t make an online reservation after 4:00 p.m. on the day of arrival), I finally reach a nice woman who is very helpful and reserves a site for late arrival.


We reach our site at about 10:00 p.m. and begin “hooking up” the camper for the first time.  Having never used the “loo” in our new camper, we had to call Mike on the cell phone and get his expert advice on the intricacies of camp toilets. 


Dinner our first night in our camper was take out Boston Market which we foresightfully purchased while at the rest area on the Pike and which we stored in our brand new refrigerator (which we were using for the first time) and cooked in our new microwave (which we used for the first time).  Oh roughing it, how sweet….


Then taking out our maps and connecting to the campground’s free WiFi, we proceeded to try to chart Thursday’s course.  With a tentative course planned, we were off to sleep for the first time on our new camp mattress (which wasn’t so new because Jeff & Erica got to sleep in the camper in May, lucky them!).  It was so quiet in the campground that we both had trouble falling asleep.  But, we finally did; and we slept through until bright and early this morning (9:30 a.m. – we were pretty much the only ones left in the campground at that hour). 


As you can see from the date stamp on this email, we’re not exactly rushing off to find new and exciting things – we’re just leisurely sitting here at the kitchen table, eating our corn muffins from last night’s Boston Market meal, and again using the campground’s free WiFi to write to you all.


We’ll probably head out in the next half hour.  Don’t know where we’re going, but we’re going in style.


Talk to you all later.


Dee and Josh (we don’t have nicknames yet – any suggestions?)

Day 2 - Watkins Glenn



Spent the night in Watkin’s Glenn last night.  Not as nice as the last place.  We are on a bit of a hill so that has made life a little interesting.  I’ll pick up some boards at a Home Depot today to raise one side if we have this issue again.  We also had to unhook the truck, both to get level front to back and because the pull through site was too short for truck and camper (and our camper isn’t that long…).  It is fun to learn these things along the way.  We also learned that “scenic view of a small valley with a steam and train tracks” means that at 10:30 PM a freight train basically pulls through the campground blowing it’s whistle the whole way.  I’m really glad we were several sections away from there, but the people who took the “scenic” must have had fun.


Also learned a lot about the new truck and the expensive transmission yesterday.  We chose a nice route of back roads, and there was a lot of great scenery.  However, AAA maps are not topographical, so we didn’t realize that we were driving right through the Appalachian mountains.  There were several hills that we went up at either 35 MHP or 3500 RPM, and since the transmission uses the engine to slow on the down hills we hit over 4000 RPMs a few times.  I’ve never seen an automatic transmission vehicle do that before, it is an impressive sound.  Also, the roads all had small towns with stop sign’s in each valley so we had to stop at the bottom of big hills and then start up the next hill from a dead stop.


Today we are headed towards somewhere between the PA shore of Lake Erie and Canton, Ohio.  We want to see the lake, and will try to stop at the football hall of fame -- we have been to the Baseball hall in Cooperstown and the Hockey hall in Toronto on previous trips.  (Interestingly, the closest pro sports hall of fame to us is Basketball in Springfield, Mass. But neither of us are interested so we’ve never been).


Also, I had trouble with Denise’s email account at the last campground, and this place requires you to go to the office to get an ID to use the free WiFi, so I am typing this email but probably won’t actually send this one or yesterday’s until tomorrow.


By tonight or tomorrow, we should be out of the states that we are used to and into the uncharted regions of Ohio (which of course has been considered charted and civilized even before Lewis and Clark).


-Josh and Dee

Friday, Day #3

Hi all,


So, today we left Watkins Glen and headed west along route 417 which was a nice 2-lane blacktop with rolling farms of corn and cows.  Then we headed south on Route 62 down into  PA which brought us through the Alleghaney National Forest which followed the Alleghaney River.  It was very narrow and a little scary. 


Along the southern border of New York we drove through some very small towns and a lot of economically challenged (forgotten) places.  We found a nice Veterans Park in Olean, NY and stopped to have lunch.  The weather was high 80’s and very muggy, but there was a rather stiff breeze in the park  so it felt much cooler.


The truck seemed to struggle less today – Josh is still experimenting with Tow/Haul mode and whether to keep it on or not!  To me it seems to work better with Tow/Haul off, but I’m not driving.


We ended up finding a KOA campground in Mercer, PA.  This  is nice also, we may stay through Saturday!  Again we arrived too late to go in the pool – it closes at 8:00 p.m.  So we decided to unhitch the truck and find beer and a restaurant.  Beer is not easy to find in PA.  They don’t sell it at gas stations; they don’t sell it at grocery stores; they don’t sell it at “Wine & Spirits” stores (which are next door to the grocery stores).  No, you have to drive out into the boonies to this really seedy, dark, poster plastered windowed place that looks like a dive.  I refused to go in, so Josh did the honors.  The following is his rendition of the experience…


So I walk in, there is a counter, a display of dusty beer cases and a roped off room that looks like the guy might live in it.  I ask if he has Miller Lite.  Yes.  I ask if he has it cold.  Yes.  OK, I’d like a cold six pack.  “I don’t sell six packs, I’m a beer distributor!  If you want a six pack go to a bar!”  OK I’ll take a cold case.  Now I need to show ID, proof of citizenship, pass a criminal background check, DNA test,… So he goes back into this storage room, the door is hanging by one hinge, and comes back with a case.  He won’t hand it to me, but puts it on what appears to be a beer transfer platform.  From there I am allowed to pick it up and go.  On the way out I pass two old ladies in a beat up Ford four door, pulling in to get their beer from the “distributor”.  I’m assuming I could probably buy drugs here in Mercer PA more easily.


Having secured beer (an essential vacation ingredient), we proceed to find a restaurant.  They don’t seem to have “chain” restaurants (other than fast food joints) here on Mercer’s strip and life style mall.  We have a choice of:  a Mexican restaurant in a three story Victorian (is it me or do these two concepts just not go together?!); Hoss’s Steakhouse Buffet; King’s Family Restaurant, or a place called Elephant and Castle.  The first three we self-explanatory and didn’t appeal to us, so we decided to try the Elephant and Castle.  You’d think it might be an Indian Restaurant, but it appeared that it wanted to be a British Pub.  So the menu had such items as Shephard’s Pie, British Fish & Chips, etc.  There were a lot of people there, so we figured – “How bad can it be?”  As it turns out, it wasn’t bad at all. 


So, after getting back to the campground and with the TV now hooked up to campground cable, we were able to catch the news which predicts cloudy and ? rain for Saturday.  So, we’ll see what tomorrow brings.


That’s it for now.


Dee & Josh


Saturday, Day #4



Decided this morning to stay an extra day here in Mercer, PA to get some stuff we needed and to take it easy a bit.  Once again we got a late start, but we did get a few things done this morning – built a leveling system from some wood we picked up at Home Depot yesterday, dumped the waste water tanks for the first time (thank you Camper’s Inn for leaving the black water tank valve open…).  Since the truck was already unhitched from the camper, we went for a drive around western PA and saw a lot of farm country on really small roads that would not have been trailer friendly.  On the way back we stopped at the local market to buy dinner for this evening (BBQ chicken) and at (ugh) Wal-Mart for a dish rack, a larger cooler (since we are now the proud owners of a full case of Miller Light), and a bunch of stick on hooks since it turns out there are a lot of things that you want to hang up in a camper.


In general, it seems that things are not going well in Butler, PA.  Last night on the news there was a story about a guy in Butler who was tasered by the police when he forgot to turn off his home alarm system.  This afternoon while we were out driving about we wound up in Butler, looking for a gas station, and heard the clerk and a customer talking about a local beer distributor (now we know what that means) who was shot last night. 


Speaking of looking for gas stations, one of the things that is starting to become an issue in western NY and PA is the lack of gas stations.  Yesterday afternoon in an hour of driving, I counted seven car dealerships and five auto parts stores and only two gas stations (which seems backwards to me).  We passed several gas stations that had gone out of business, but it is remarkable that there are so few.  This is both an interesting observation about the economy and a potential concern since we are driving a rig that is averaging about 8.5 miles per gallon and only has a 26 gallon tank.  I thought about getting a second tank installed in the truck before we left but decided against spending the money.  I expected to have to pay more attention to gas out west, but we are still not too far from home.  It is not like we are going through wilderness, it is constant towns and yet there are simply no gas stations for miles and miles.  People in a lot of the towns we are passing through must use a quarter of a tank of gas just going to the gas station and back.


After we got back to the camp ground, even though there were scattered thunderstorms, we actually used the pool here.  We are actually taking advantage of a lot of the campground features here that we haven’t at our previous stops.  We even talked about using the bathhouse showers, but in the end we decided to use the shower in the camper, which means I’ll have to dump that tank again in the morning (someone takes long showers).  On the bright side, the hot water seems to last for an entire shower – even a long one.


Dinner came out good, and we used the stove for the first time.  I think this leaves the oven as the only system we have not yet used or at least tested, and we are going to wait on that until the weather cools off.  We have used the air conditioner a lot in the last few days.  Two other things we have discovered are that the circuit breaker blows if you use the microwave, the oven vent fan, the air conditioner, and the outside lights all at the same time, and that there is a small leak in the shower door.  Always something to retrofit.


-Josh and Dee

Sunday, Day #5

Hi All,


Sunday. Oh what a day!  We woke (at 8:30 a.m. – we’re getting on a little bit earlier schedule) to rain – meaning we had to breakdown in the rain this morning.  We also found out that, even though we “dumped” yesterday a.m., when we both take showers and cook and clean up after a full meal, we fill the grey water to 2/3 full; so, Josh got to test out his newfound “dumping” skills again this morning.  After the “surprise” of his first try, this one went much smoother. 


I don’t know what it takes normal people to get up, get going, and get out; however, I’ve figured based on the last few days that it takes us about 2 to 2 ½ hours from wake up to drive.  This seems to be the case regardless of whether we shower at night or in the morning.  I don’t know if this is good or not good; but it seems to coincide with how long it takes us to get going whether we are at home, in a hotel room, or at the lake house.  I guess we are just 2-hour prep people – wherever that puts us in the general population.  Do you think anyone does statistics on this kind of stuff?


So, driving out of Mercer, PA, we headed north then west to Canton, OH.   One might wonder why we would intentionally go to Canton, OH; however, for those of you out there who follow sports, you’ll know – the Football Hall of Fame.  We got there at about 1:00 P.M.  Thank goodness the parking lot was empty because there were really no spaces for trailers even though the sign indicated that one such place did exist – we didn’t find it.  We ended up parking sideways at the far end of the lot and took up about 10 spaces.  Rather than make lunch in the camper, we decided to try the fare at the Hall’s Tail Gate Snack Bar.  The lady behind the counter was definitely not happy  that people were arriving at her counter to order “tail gate” food, some of which they had already run out of at 1:00 p.m.!, but we managed to secure a burger and hot dog with fries and onion rings.  Not the best lunch ever; however, we felt we had to experience the “full” experience the Hall had to offer.


The Hall itself was quite interesting.  It was located just east of the city of Canton (unlike the Hockey Hall of Fame which we visited in 1998 and was situated in the middle of a downtown mal!).  We learned quite a bit about the first century of football which began in 1892.  There were several buildings which housed various exhibits.  They also had several areas where you could view videos or access touch screens which gave information on Hall members and their bios and memorable moments.  As with the Baseball Hall of Fame (which the kids and I visited in about 1989 and which Josh & I visited in 1998) it’s grand finale is a cinematic experience of a recent championship game.  Today’s game show featured Super Bowl XL with the Pittsburg Steelers and the Seattle Seahawks.  [Jeff will, I’m sure, remember the cinematic experience from 1989’s visit to the Hall of Fame – 1986’s Mets v. Red Sox – can anyone say Billy Buckner?]  Of course, one can’t leave a tourist trap without first visiting its Gift Shop.  I won’t bore you with our spending habits (especially when it comes to the grandkids), I will say that my comment to the clerk “Do we get a discount for buying in bulk?” elicited a chuckle and comment from a lady in line behind me.  It turns out that she and her husband come from Wisconsin and are fans of Green Bay (my second favorite team after the Patriots).  We mentioned that we were going to try to pass through Green Bay and they gave us some great tips on where to go and what to see while there.  Looking forward to that.  We were also able to catch the final results of the Patriots/Jets game that was being broadcast on TV’s in the Gift Shop.


[Josh taking over]  Personally, though I enjoyed the information on Lawrence Taylor and the late 80’s Giants, I felt that the hall of fame was lacking in its coverage of the three-time Super- Bowl-winning, dynasty of the 00’s New England Patriots.  Maybe we can go back in ten or fifteen years when Bledsoe, Brady, Vinateri, Parcells, and Belichick are all in the hall of fame.


Upon leaving the Hall of Fame, we headed west towards Shelby, Ohio to a campground that was very well rated (5) in our guide books.  For some reason, we were feeling cocky so we did not make advanced reservations.  We enjoyed driving through rural Ohio, but were wondering how the campground could be “wooded” when all we were seeing was of corn fields.   When we finally got there at 7:00 p.m. we found out that 1) the office was closed; 2) the main campground was gated; 3) although there were campers beyond the gated area, there was no human activity; and 4) what may have been the night registration sites were out in the middle of a field where there were no other campers.  Therefore, we punted, opened the slide out so we could use our camper bathroom in the middle of their parking lot, called ahead to a campground near the Ohio/Michigan border, and turned around and got back on the road. 


The good news is that we can set up in 10 minutes while being swarmed by mosquitoes!  The bad news is that 10 minutes started at around 10:00 at night (again).  Also, I’ll point out for those of you who may have doubted me [you know who you are ;-) ] the site was not level and I pulled out my homemade ramp system; and the little bubble in the silly level they give you with a new camper is reading dead center level.


Between Shelby and here (Stony Ridge, OH outside of Toledo) we saw several very long freight trains; an expansive train switching yard that was so large it stretched to the horizon in both directions (sorry you missed it Nathaniel); a triple piggy-backed trailer truck (Denise’s first); and one of the scariest truck stops we’ve been in in a while - and we also passed 1000 miles on the road. 


As we write this, we are now actually using our TV antenna also for the first time (I forgot that one) and watching the end of the Giants]Cowboys game while eating microwave leftovers (our last).  Off to bed soon for another adventure tomorrow, maybe Michigan…


-Josh and Dee


Monday Day #6



Other than changing planes once in Detroit in 1984, we are now in a state that neither of us have ever been in – Michigan.  We woke very early this morning to the sound of train whistles.  Then again, then again, ….  We had heard them the night before, but they stopped around 11:00 so it was not late for us.  It turns out that if you drive by a train yard and then cross train tracks to get to the campground, you should expect that the trains will run by.  Bonus points for the person who knows what two long, one short, one long means in the train whistle code (without using Wikipedia which is what I had to do)  The train whistle is kind of a nice Americana sound, but less so early in the morning, and less so when you hear it five times for every train.  Long-long-short-long is the code for approaching a grade crossing.  Apparently there are five grade crossings between the train yard in Stony Ridge, OH and open track.


We did get an earlier start this morning. I was out of bed at around 8:00 and Denise was moving before 9:00.  I learned that it saves time to set up the coffee maker the night before.  I used the “quiet” hour to work on updating a Google map of our trip – more on that later.  We are also getting better at breaking camp.  Unfortunately, since I don’t quite have a routine yet, I am used to being on autopilot through what used to be my commute time – hence, I left the surge protector at the camp site while putting everything away.  I was not dumb enough to leave it plugged in, but I was dumb enough to put it on the picnic table while I put the power cord back into its storage in the back of the camper. [On the bright side, when I called last night’s campground, they found it right away and are overnighting it to our next stop – which will not be a KOA .


We had a really good day driving through the back roads of southern Michigan – though Denise did make me turn the camper around (twice) on a rural road so that she could get a second shot at taking a picture of the welcome to Michigan sign.  We covered a lot of ground and had much easier driving on the straight level roads.  Saw a lot of urban sprawl and the retailing of America, but still a lot of farming and small manufacturing.  The good news on gas is that Michigan, home of the U.S. automobile industry, has not abandoned the concept of the gas station, as there are plenty here in Michigan.  The bad news is that gas is well over $3.00 per gallon here.  We paid $3.11 a gallon for a quarter tank this afternoon.  For those of you who want to keep track of the numbers, as of mid day today we were averaging 8.9 miles per gallon and had used 133 gallons.


We stopped for lunch today in a mall in Adrian, Michigan; parked the camper at the back of the mall lot; used the restrooms at McDonalds and picked up a couple of orders of fries; and made and ate our lunch in the camper.  It seemed a little novel until another camper pulled in and then a landscaping truck with a big trailer and they had their lunch there also.  Denise was enamored with the 1970’s vintage McDonalds and the plaque that proudly said it was the 1,912th McDonalds established on 12/13/1971 (note to Lou – wasn’t that Jen’s 1st birthday?).  Overall, once you get away from the cities, Michigan seems nicer than Ohio.


While traveling through Ohio, we noticed that a lot of the large farm fields had derricks and green storage tanks – we made the assumption that these were for water for irrigation and weren’t oil wells.  However, in Michigan, the farms seem to use very large booms (several hundred feet long) that have wheels.  We didn’t see one at work, so not sure how it is powered.


Although we completely missed Amish country in central Ohio because it was not on our route from the Hall of Fame to the campground in northwest Ohio, we did see a few Amish in their buggies and in their yards on route 86 west in Michigan.


Other than driving through small towns and rural countryside today, we did no touristy things (don’t think there were any to do!), so we arrived to the KOA in Coloma, MI, which is on the southeast shore of Lake Michigan. at the very respectable hour of 5:30 p.m.  We still didn’t eat until 10:00 p.m. because I (Denise) decided I couldn’t go another day without doing laundry; I have not run a load of laundry since we left last Wednesday!  For those of you who know me, this is unheard of…  The Laundromat at the campground wasn’t too bad, and Josh & I were the only ones using it.  Well, I was using it; he was in the game room using the internet to try to get us a hotel room for tomorrow night.  I was hoping tonight’s campground (rated 4 stars) would be nice enough to stay for 2 days, but I don’t think it is and I really don’t like our site – its very narrow (we can reach out and touch our neighbors); it’s muddy; there was litter from previous occupants; and the fire pits are metal rings sunk completely into the ground with the middle a big hole in the ground which to me is just an accident waiting to happen.  That’s why we decided to stay in a hotel room tomorrow night and because I can’t figure out how to shave my legs in the small camper shower!  We’re going to stay in Holland, MI, and do some touristy things, and wait for Josh’s surge protector to arrive at the hotel.


Josh is now getting good at setting up and BBQ’ing on the Coleman stove in the dark and in the rain (it’s raining again tonight).


That’s about it for today. 


Hope all is well with everyone.


Dee & Josh



Tuesday, Day #7

Hi All,


Rained all last night.  Packing up went smoothly but was a little damp and muddy.  Managed to pull out without driving into the sunken fire pit which was right in the middle of the pull-in area!?


Headed north on Route A2, which follows the shore of Lake Michigan.  Stopped at Van Buren State Park.  No one there.  Walked on beach; it was exactly like an ocean but it was freshwater.  It reminded us of Seabrook in NH, even down to the nuclear power plant (see picture of Josh with nuclear reactor behind him)  Very windy so the surf was up.  It even had amazing (and environmentally/legally protected sand dunes).  We took some pictures, collected some rocks, and ate lunch in the camper in the parking lot.


Went a little further north on A2 and came upon Lake Michigan Maritime Museum (see pictures).in South Haven, MI.  No one there.  We got the carpenter’s tour (he was actually a maritime carpenter) of  an 1813 cargo vessel – sails, cannon, etc., which was used in the War of 1812 (for those of you who are historically challenged, the War of  1812 went from 1812 to 1814)..   There was also a lighthouse exhibit that was very interesting.  It was amazing how many lighthouses were on the Great Lakes.  There was a Rescue Boat exhibit which was housed in a real Coast Guard Surfman’s Station and had on display 3 rescue boats.


The phenomenon of rich people buying lakefront cottages from the mid-1900’s and tearing them down to build McMansions on postage stamp size lots (ala the Lake Winnipasaukee phenomenon) is alive and well here on the southeastern shore of Lake Michigan.  They are also developing shoreward farms into California style gated communities for the rich and famous. 


We continued north on A2 to Holland, MI, and went straight to the new Doubletree Hotel just off Route 31.  It was so new, they were still constructing parts of it.  We were checked into the hotel by a gentleman names “Kraus” – get it?  Holland / Kraus.  Our room is very nice and has direct access to the pool, which we immediately took advantage of.  We were the only ones there so we stayed in the water for a good hour and a half. 


We’re hoping that Josh’s surge protector shows up here tomorrow morning.


Don’t have plans yet for tomorrow.


That’s all for now,


-Dee and Josh


Wednesday, Day #8

Everything happens for a reason…so, we stuck around the hotel room until noon; but Josh’s package still hadn’t arrived.  We decided to leave and try seeing a few sites around Holland, hoping that the package would arrive in the early afternoon.


There was a Holland Historical Museum with displays on Dutch immigrants to the area, but we had to drag the camper through city streets to get there (having to stop for gas at a corner gas station).  We found a nice long on-street parking site one street over from the museum.  We got out and suddenly Josh stopped, dropped his head down to the level of the camper tire, and said “Do you hear that?”  I couldn’t, but he insisted that he thought he heard hissing from one of the camper tires.  He got out his new and improved tire pressure gauge (most gauges only read to 50 psi and the camper needs 65 and the truck 65/80) and found the tire was 15 psi less than what it should be.  We punted on the museum and took off in search of a tire store in the middle of the City of Holland!  We got very lucky.  We saw a police officer standing by his SUV on one of the residential streets, so we stopped so I could ask him if he knew how to get to a tire store.  Upon stopping I proceeded to notice that his jacket read “Evidence Technician” and that he was filling out what I now believe was an evidence envelope.  CSI Holland, MI!?  He was very nice and didn’t seem to mind interrupting his crime scene reporting to let us know that two block over there was a tire store (see picture).  The guys at the tire store were terrific.  They took care of us right away and were happy to give us the offending piece of road debris that had punctured our tire. 


Having now used up an hour or so, we called the hotel again – no package.  We gave up and headed north to deal with the package-in-transit at a later time.


About a half hour out of Holland on very scenic shore roads, we got a call from the hotel – our package had arrived.  We made the decision to turn back and go get it.  Interestingly, even though we asked to have the package sent overnight, the lady from the campground sent it UPS Ground, and it was only luck that it arrived today.


So, at about 2:15 p.m. we again started north again from the hotel…


Heading north again we saw: a 200+ car coal train, acres and acres of high bush blueberries, another scenic beach front pullout where we stopped to look at the lake (much calmer today).  Then, just east of Luddington we saw a sign that said “Amber Elk Ranch, right two miles”.  How can you pass up the opportunity to see an Elk Ranch?  They were closed, but we pulled over and saw some very impressive elk (see pictures) making the detour worth it.  Since we could not turn the camper around on that road we had to stop some locals on a hay tractor and ask for direction back to the main road.


Since it was getting late and we didn’t have anything to cook, we stopped for pizza and onion rings at Papa J’s Pizza and Diner in Honor, MI – highly recommended if you happen to find yourself in Honor.  Since I (Denise) had blueberries on the brain and since this area is the fruit capital of Michigan AND since the pie that was displayed on the counter was blueberry crumb pie – well…I just had to have a piece.  It was delicious.


Pulled into the campground just south of Traverse City at about 8:30 and managed to back in (easy to do when you’re not dodging fire pits that are holes in the ground) and get set up in the dark in just a few minutes (Mom – I (Josh) am now sitting in the camper smoking my pipe – for the rest of you, it is an inside joke).


Heading towards the Straits of Makinac(?) tomorrow.


Miss everyone…


- Dee & Josh


Thursday, Day #9 (9/13/2007)

Hi all,


One more system tried and found to be in good working order – the gas heater.  It got down to 42.9 degrees last night.  We stayed at the KOA just south of Traverse City, MI.  Not bad.


We began the day traveling north on 37 to Traverse City where we followed 37 up on the Old Mission peninsula.  The road ended at the top of the peninsula in a park which contained an old lighthouse and an old settlers’ cottage (see pictures).  Riding up the peninsula itself was interesting – lots of apple and cherry trees as well as grapes.  It appears that this region is a famous wine country.  After getting back down the peninsula to Traverse City, we looked for a place to have lunch.  Traverse City is very touristy and was rather crowded for a Thursday early afternoon.  We got out of the real thick of things and noticed a purple and blue older building that looked like the old drive-in A&W ‘s.  It was called Don’s Big Hamburger, we just had to stop.  It was a real 1950’s car-hop diner with the original furnishings, 45-rpm jukebox, and waitress – gray thinning beehive hairdo and all.  [Josh:  Since they had a real jukebox with 45’s I couldn’t resist.  Since I didn’t have quarters, I had to ask at the register for “change of a dollar for the jukebox” – I’ve always wanted to say that – Jeff, Ethan??? (Rock This Town by the Stray Cats]


After lunch we continued north on route 31 to the KOA in Petoskey.  Today is night #4 in western Michigan.  Who would have thunk we’d spend so much time in Michigan!  This place is like the Ritz Carlton of KOA’s.  Golf cart guide to our paved and level site; back-in assistance; the man squeegeed the puddle by our door and gave us restaurant info and a pitch on their food court. He would have delivered the firewood to our site, but I (Josh) couldn’t see letting a 70 year old retiree carry my wood. May stay more than one night, we’ll see.


Had our first campfire of the trip.  While we were sitting by the fire, our site guide Alan drove by in his hi-tech golf cart and swung into the site to say hi and to point out that we truly knew how to relax (sitting in our lawn chairs by the fire with a beer).  I offered him a beer, but he declined, though he then came around again to say that he really appreciated the offer but that he could not drink while on duty.  As expected, their “one night’s fire” bundle did not last for a full evening, so back to the store for more wood and, since we had been driving through cherry orchards all day and there had been a big sign in the office advertising pies, a slice of cherry pie.  This time Alan would not allow me to carry the wood back myself so he drove it to the site while I walked back.  He was there chatting with Denise and stacking the wood for us (really, the Ritz Carleton of KOAs) when I came back to tell her they were out of pie.  Well Alan snapped out his walkie-talkie “Alan to guest services, The guests in site 29 were looking for pie, will there be any tomorrow? Over”  “Don’t know what was ordered” “10-4, can you call Gary on his cell phone and see if there will be cherry pie tomorrow.  Over”  I am not making this up.  He then stood there and chatted with us for about five minutes waiting for a response.  “Guest services to Alan, yes Gary ordered pie for tomorrow, it should be here by noon.”  “10-4, Alan out”.


-Josh and Dee



Friday, Day #10 (Sept. 14th)

Hello again all,


We decided to stay another night here at the “KOA Ritz Carlton” – day #5 in Michigan.  Wanted to do some more sightseeing on small roads, which we can’t really do with the camper.


As advised by the campground staff, we headed north on 119 along the lake shore.  There are some amazing homes being built and pretty much most of the land appears to be for sale as well as many of the older summer homes.  One thing is for sure, there is a lot of money coming to this part of Michigan (don’t know from where though - ? California, ? Chicago, ??).  At least for right now Route 119 is still very narrow, wooded, and not very trafficy.  At one point, a small doe was standing by the side of the road; instead of bounding away, she just turned to look at us, let me take her picture, and stood there while I talked to her for a few minutes – her ears perking every time I said something (see picture).  She finally got bored and wandered off.


Evidently, the area surrounding this particular road used to be quite a large Indian settlement with some early European fur traders also making this their home.  There were a couple of old cabins (like we took a picture of yesterday) just by themselves by the side of the road – no historic marker or anything. 


The folks at the campground recommended a restaurant part way up 119 called Legs Inn, so we decided to have lunch there.  They were offering Polish fare which was very good.  The place itself is something on the Michigan Historic Register and is rather unique.  Click on this Link


After lunch we continued north on 119 and turned into the Sturgeon Bay Wilderness Area.  There was a turn out about a mile down this road where we pulled over and walked down to Lake Michigan.  This time I put my hand in the lake and got hit with an incoming wave – a little more wet than I wanted to get on a cold, raw day.  Oh well.  A little further down that road, we ran into a storm coming off the lake and it began to hail.


At the end of Route 119 we hooked back up with Route 31 north into Mackinaw City, which is where the Mackinac Strait goes through from Lake Michigan to Lake Huron with a very large bridge (which we’ll be crossing tomorrow) that goes over to the upper peninsula of Michigan.  They are recreating through an archeological dig Fort Mackinac – it was closed by the time we got there, so just took some pictures from outside.  (see pictures).  See this link -


We then followed Route 23 south along the shores of Lake Huron for about 50 miles.  We stopped at a pull out and walked down to that lake.  I again put my hand in the water and got hit by a small wave.  Didn’t get too wet.


When we got back to the camp ground, the cherry pie was waiting for us J


Heading out towards Green Bay, Wisconsin tomorrow a.m. 



-Dee and Josh



Saturday Day #11 (Sept. 15)



There are two words that really get the attention of RV service people… propane leak.  We decided to get an early start this morning because it looked like a long driving day.  We decided, with the weather cold and getting colder, heading up into the Lake Superior shore of Ontario might not be a good idea.  Instead, we decided to head across the upper peninsula (aka U.P.) of Michigan and down into Wisconsin to Green Bay. 


While I was hooking the camper back to the truck and getting ready to leave, in the back of my head I was still trying to diagnose Denise’s “Do you smell that, it smells like poop” concern.  I had been checking the waste tanks and valves and everything else I could think of but couldn’t come up with anything.  I could occasionally smell what she was complaining about but couldn’t figure our where it was coming from.  Well I finally figured out that it was coming from near the area where the valve is for the external propane grill connection. When I stuck my head under the camper there, lo and behold, another hiss.  I shut off the propane tank and the hiss stopped, turned it back on and the hiss started again.  So off to the local RV dealer, who was “kinda busy today, so…” until I mentioned that it was a propane leak.  Then it was if you can be here in 15 minutes we’ll squeeze you in.  The folks there were very nice and we got the leak fixed (turned out to be a cracked brass fitting so Denise will be giving an earful to the Starcraft warrantee department on Monday), and the propane system pressure tested, and we were on our way.  At 12:30 again, even though we had tried for an early start.


We crossed the bridge over the Mackinac straits to the upper peninsula -- for those of you from NY, think of crossing the Verranzano Narrows bridge, towing a camper on a windy day.  The U.P. itself was nice, and a lot less built up than the rest of Michigan.


Late afternoon we crossed into Wisconsin, the central time zone, and a land of under $3.00 per gallon gas.  Hallelujah!


We did not have definite campground plans and called one place that sounded good that was part way between the U.P. and Green Bay.  However, since we were making good time, we wound up canceling that and heading to a campground past Green Bay in a town called Kewaunee on the shore of Lake Michigan.  Since the map of Green bay was not that helpful, we wound up driving right through downtown. It was a little challenging, but not too bad, though we did have to stop for a raised drawbridge and some of the road paving was pretty bad.  There were two sections of road that had bumps between pavement sections every six or eight feet and seemed exactly in sync with the distance between the truck and camper wheels, which set up a pretty wild bouncing.


Made it to the campground in Kewaunee just before the office closed, our first non-KOA, and had a nice long chat with Warren, the owner, about the Good Sam RV Club, the evils of KOA, his life after retiring from the Air Force, Dorr County, his one visit to New Hampshire, and a bunch of other things that I can’t remember.  About an hour after arriving we were at our site.


It appears that we’ve arrived in Wisconsin to record cold overnight temperatures – glad we know the heater works.


-Josh and Dee



Sunday, Day #12 (Sept. 16) - Go Pack Go!

Hi all,


Decided to stay in Kewaunee and take the day to go into Green Bay.  If you remember, from last Sunday’s trip log, we mentioned meeting a couple from Wisconsin (while we were at the Football Hall of Fame) who told us that we may be able to get a tour of the stadium where the Green Bay Packers play.  Although I (Denise) am a Patriot fan, my 2nd favorite team has always been the Green Bay Packers.  So, we took the half-hour drive back to Green Bay and found the stadium without much problem.  We already knew that they were playing today at the Meadowlands against the Giants.  A gate to the parking lot at the back of the stadium was open, so we took a chance and drove in.  We drove around and found the main gate, so we parked and walked up the steps.  From the outside you couldn’t tell whether it was open or not, so we tried one of the doors.  Sure enough, it was open.  We walked into an area where there was a gift shop, pro shop, ice cream shop, and the entrance to the Packers Hall of Fame.  They were offering tours of the stadium each hour, so we signed up for the noon tour.  It was awesome.  They just completed a mega renovation by adding a 4-story atrium that is open to the public 364 days of the year except when the Packers have a home game and on Christmas.  There are pubs, restaurants, function areas (you can actually have your wedding there), corporate meeting areas, and more.  We got to sit in a luxury suite, then we got to walk down the same walkway that the players enter the field from, and then we got walk on the field and sit in the stands.  I found it amazing.  I walked on the same ground that Bart Star and Bret Favre walked on!  I felt this awe once before when Josh & I visited Boone Plantation in South Carolina (1992) – they were using the plantation for the filming of the mini-series “South” and Patrick Swaszey had walked on the same floors that we were walking on!


The Packers Hall of Fame was on par or better than the Football Hall of Fame.  The Boston teams should do something like this; it could be a healthy revenue generator.  We ended up having lunch at Curly’s Pub (named after the famous player/coach Curly Lambeau, for whom the stadium is named) and watched the game on TV with all of the Packers fans.  (See pics of visit to Lambeau Stadium)


Back at the campground, god forbid a day should go by where we don’t have to learn another “system”.  We had problems with using the “gas hot water heater” option (as opposed to using electricity to heat the water, which is what we’d been doing so far).  We decided to use the gas option to see if it would help with having hot water long enough to take a “full” shower, which really doesn’t happen with electricity heated hot water.  It really didn’t seem to make that big of a difference; however, it did manage to cause a leak under the sink and also the hot water tank was making “funny” noises.  Josh found the source of the leak right away.  I’ll let him tell the story…  The issue was that with added heat from the gas heater additional pressure built up in the hot water tank (I think that is Boyle’s Law).  The pressure caused a small leak in the one of the connections (easily fixed by tightening) and caused the pressure relief valve to open and let some water out (Denise’s funny noise).  After reading the manual I managed to reestablish the air pocket in the tank that cushions the pressure and everything is running fine now.  We also figured out how to get the powered antenna working better and so we were able to get HD channels off the air, so we could watch the Patriots game in HD.


Overall a great day in Green Bay!


-Dee And Josh



Monday, Day #13 (Sept. 17) - Manitowok



We decided to stay in Kewaunee one more day and get caught up on laundry (7 loads to be exact), get the Chevy’s first oil change & tire rotation (there was a Chevy dealership right on Route 29), and then see some of the local area. 


First a little morning excitement (or chill) when we ran out of propane.  We have two 30 lb tanks and the explanation we received when we got the camper about how the switchover valve works turns out to have been completely wrong.  As a result, when the first tank ran empty it did not switch over to the second.  Once again, we have figured out how things actually work, as opposed to how we were told they work; and we are all set.  The guy in the camper next to us, and Warren the campground owner, were both very helpful as well.


After lunch we headed out to Manitowok to see the Wisconsin Maritime Museum.  Part of the museum was the submarine “Cobia”, which saw action in WWII and was a training ship during the Korean War.  As it happens, Manitowok (a big shipbuilding hub on the Great Lakes) was retooled to build submarines during the War.  They produced 28 submarines of which 4 were lost during the War.  This is my 3rd sub tour (previously one in Fall River, MA, and The Albatross in Portsmouth, NH) a Josh’s 2nd (The Albatross).  It never ceases to amaze me – the space is so confined, hot, and smelly; and there are so many dials, valves, switches – the correct use of which may mean the difference between life and sinking.  For those of you who didn’t know – Charlie’s brother Gerard served as a submariner during WWII.  The museum itself had wonderful displays of old wooden boats that traveled the Great Lakes; ship models (some were 5’ long); shipwrecks; fishing; shipbuilding; goods that were traded on the Lakes; etc.  We ended up spending about 4 hours there. 


As we were leaving, a thunderstorm passed through on its way out onto Lake Michigan (as a point of orientation, we are now in eastern Wisconsin, which is the western shore of Lake Michigan).  The road we took out of Manitowok followed the shoreline.  The waves breaking on the shore were impressive (locals were pulling over and snapping pictures – so did we [see pics]) and the lightning show out on the Lake was rather impressive.  At one point, we had pulled over to take pictures and the lightning hit the lightning rod on a light house right in front of us.  Got out of there rather quickly.


Drove around some more looking at the countryside.  Drove half way up the Door peninsula looking for a restaurant, but all we seemed to find were what Charlie used to call “beer joints” – picture Blackies under the overpass.  Needless to say, we didn’t stop at any of them.  We ended up coming all the way back to Kewaunee and ate at the only restaurant we could find open.  Josh was jonesing for a traditional whitefish dinner after spending a day in the Maritime Museum and looking at all the display of fish that can be caught on the lake, so McDonald’s wouldn’t do.


Hope to head out early tomorrow and put some miles behind us.


We’re going to miss Lake Michigan – she’s been with us for about 8 days now.


Dee & Josh



Tuesday, Day #14 (Sept. 18) - Whose idea was Iowa?



This morning we got up; both took showers; emptied the black, grey and galley water tanks; rehooked up the truck to the camper and were still on the road by 10:30 (though we did have some help from the fact that we are in the Central Time zone).  That was the good news.  The bad news was that when deciding where to head today, since it is still cold up in Canada and since there were supposed to be storms in northern Wisconsin, Denise said the fateful words…. “Let’s go to Iowa.  Then I can say I was in Iowa”.  So off we headed to the southwest.


Problem number one, was that the direct road from the Green Bay, WI, area to the northeast corner of Iowa, route 151, turned out to be the worst paved road that either of us had ever been on.  We had had a few problems previously in Wisconsin with roads that seemed to have bumps in sync with the truck, but this was so bad that after about a half hour we had to give up and get off the road.  The truck and the trailer were bouncing so much that I (Josh) was getting very nervous that the hitch was going to come loose.  Normally, I don’t use the rear view mirror while driving because all I can see is the front of the trailer (for those of you – Mom – who are worried at this point, I have extra wide side mirrors).  However, I kept looking in the rearview mirror and I could see the trailer going up and down. Meanwhile the truck was riding like a boat in choppy seas.  So we got off of 151 in Beaver Dam, WI, and dead reconned our way on back roads to route 60, which was a smaller road, but much nicer to drive on and with much better scenery to boot (see pictures of cornfields as far as the eye can see).  Overall we wound up going faster on the back roads because we were not fighting the bumping; although there was a pretty stiff headwind pretty much the whole way from Kewaunee.


At 5:33 PM CST we crossed the Mississippi river into Iowa and are now officially WEST!  (See pictures)


At 5:47 PM CST, we came around a bend in the road by a rise in the corn, and drove into a scene straight from the movie “Twister.”  The attached pictures do not really do justice to how threatening the sky was, but there was really no where to turn off and we had a tractor trailer behind us.  Within a few minutes we were driving right through the heart of the storm, the rain was so hard that it was nearly impossible to see, and the wind was jarring the truck - we were down to about 20 MPH; and Denise was hyperventilating and was convinced that we would be sucked up by a tornado at any moment.  The only thing that kept her from totally freaking out was the fact that cars were coming (albeit slowly and infrequently) through from the other direction.  Although it was good to see they made it through, we now needed to be worried whether they were on their own side of the road or not – there basically was zero visibility beyond a foot or so.  We got through safely but very shook up.  With still no where to turn off to recoup, we just drove on to the campground in Clermont, IA, which was about 20 minutes further.  The lightening and rain continued but at a “normal” rate.


When we got to the campground, we noticed the sky to our west was again very dark and threatening.  We went to check in and asked the woman how they know the difference from a “regular” thunderstorm and a tornado.  Instead of saying “Oh, don’t be silly, we don’t get tornadoes” she said, “When the sky gets really green we know a tornado is coming and the barn (pointing to a building that looked pretty far away if you have to run to it during a tornado) has a sturdy foundation so just get in to the bottom floor and you’ll be fine”.  She also mentioned having her own key to a storm shelter, though she didn’t offer up the key or the location of her “secret” storm shelter.


So, we went back out to the camper and took a pull-through site and left the car and trailer hitched together.  At this point, the threatening sky to our West was now over our heads.  Poor Josh let me into the camper while he hooked up water & electric and stabilized the camper.  We tried to connect to the internet to get weather radar info, but the internet connection appeared to be down.  We tried the TV but got no reception.  So, not knowing if we were in for another “tornado” Denise proceeded to crawl up on the floor in the bathroom/hallway area and waited anxiously (to put it mildly).  The storm had a lot of rain and lightening but, thankfully, no wind and no freight train sound – there, in fact, does happen to be a train track in current use right across the way, so don’t know how helpful that warning would be to us. 


Poor Josh, again, had to go out in the rain to hook up cable because Denise wouldn’t calm down until she knew what was happening with the weather. 


We did get cable TV working, and yes they were predicting rather stormy weather for this area tonight, but thankfully no tornados. 


Not sure how good we’ll sleep, but we’re exhausted.  Today was not a day we want to repeat.


I can now say that I’ve been to Iowa and will be leaving first thing in the a.m.  never to return.


Josh & Denise


P.S.  – We’ve had poor luck with internet connections, so you’ll probably get this as well as the last 3-4 days worth of diaries.  Please don’t panic (Mom) if you don’t hear from us for a few days at a time.



Day #15, Wed (Sept 19) -- Little House on the Prairie

Hi all,


Well, we survived the night here in Clermont, IA.  A few more T-storms with lots of rain but no big winds. 


Decided to head northwest out of Iowa and into southwestern Minnesota toward Walnut Grove.  For those of you who don’t know what Walnut Grove is, it is the place depicted in the TV series “Little House on the Prairie” based on the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. 


Shortly after we crossed into Minnesota on Route 56 in Taopi, we saw our first “wind farm” with rows of big white wind turbines in cornfields (see pics).  We found Minnesota to be much flatter than northeast Iowa.  Also, in Minnesota, along Route 218 which followed a railroad track, there were abandoned telegraph poles which are shorter than today’s utility poles.  There were no wires strung between them, but some of them still had insulators at the tops of the cross pole.  We couldn’t find a place to pull over to take a picture though.


Of course, a day can’t pass without a technical issue with the camper.  Today’s issue was a broken rear light.  When I say broken, I mean BROKEN.   Josh was walking back to take a picture of “Route 14 – Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Highway”, so he put the flashers on to warn drivers we were pulled over.  He noted the light was out, so he took the protective cover off to find the bulb glass had split into two pieces!  It was fine when we left Kewaunee, WI, because I remember doing a “light” check.  It must have broken when we were driving over the rough roads yesterday!  Since this meant that our right turn directional wouldn’t work, we decided to fix this right away.  Couldn’t find a car parts store; however, once again, we were forced to pull into a WalMart.  They did have the bulb we needed, so Josh replaced it and we were on our way.


I wanted to see the towns mentioned in the Little House series – Mankato, Sleepy Eye, and Walnut Grove.  They are all in a line along Route 14 spaced out evenly over a 75 mile stretch of road – appropriately named The Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Highway.  We arrived in Walnut Grove rather late – 7:00 p.m.  There really is nothing there except a huge grain elevator and a few houses and, as far as we could tell, a large population of Asian Americans!  Walnut Grove has a population of under 600 people.  We located Plum Creek, obviously not the paradise of a waterway that it probably was in the 1870’s.  We also located the Walnut Grove cemetery.  The only name we could find that I recognized from the series was Hansen (as in Lars Hansen who was depicted as the founder of Walnut Grove in the series).  There was a tiny museum, which obviously was closed; but it didn’t seem to be very big.  My research found that there is a good size museum in Missouri where Laura and Almonzo moved to raise Rose.  We’ll try to hit that when we get to Missouri in mid-October.  Josh also found (on Google) the Wisconsin location of Little House in the Big Woods, but we’ve gone too far west to go back now.  But his research did show a site in South Dakota that we may try to get to (although I don’t remember South Dakota being mentioned in the Little House Series but evidently it was a big part of the book series).


Since there was no place to stay in Walnut Grove, we decided to push on to what Woodall’s promised was a 5* campground as part of a casino resort in Granite Falls, MN – about 75 further north from Walnut Grove.  We had no choice – there is nothing up here on the prairie but fields and fields and fields of corn and soy beans.  The grain elevators here are huge and there is a lot of movement by semi’s of tons and tons of these crops, which are earnestly being harvested as we drive by.  We stopped at a hole-in-the-wall gas station in Lamberton (on Route 14 just east of Walnut Grove) and got to talking with the man behind the counter.  He explained what was in the humongous grain elevator across the street – corn and soy beans.  He mentioned that that particular elevator (one of hundreds in Minnesota) processed 120 railroad cars of crops per day!  Most of it going to China, Japan, and other Asian countries.  I asked where we get our corn, and he said “from here…there’s plenty.”  While we were chatting, a young man (about 18 and named Josh) came in.  He was introduced as “This young man’s family has 4000 acres here.”  He noticed we were from NH and said, “You have farming there don’t you.”  We said, “Yes, but probably a large farm in NH would have about 100-200 acres.”  They all laughed and said, “We call that a Hobby Farm.”  All in all it was a very pleasant interchange.


After driving about an hour through the dark prairie passing semi’s and collecting bugs on the windshield, we came upon a giant video sign out in the middle of nowhere, marking the entrance to the Prairie’s Edge Casino and Resort and the Upper Sioux Reservation.  This is the weirdest place we have stayed so far.  The Casino, Hotel, and Convention Center building is a large, neon-lit, monstrosity literally in the middle of corn and soybean fields in the middle of nowhere off a county road off another county road off a secondary state road.  It has its own gas station and convenience store and then next door is the nicest, neatest, most well maintained RV campground we have seen.  Each site has a huge concrete pad for the camper, a little manicured lawn, a picnic area, a brand new fire ring with stone base and grill, and bark much and decorative bushes around the water and electric hook up.  There is practically no one here and it really doesn’t feel like a campground at all.  Very surreal.  Since we came in after hours, security drove out and wrote down our license plate number.  (Denise had called and George said he would reserve a spot for us – but then he taped the map with directions to our site to the INSIDE of the locked office door).


Well were safely here for the night.  More adventures tomorrow.


-Denise and Josh



Day # 16, Thurs (Sept 20) -- "Oh Toto..."

Hello everyone,


7:30 a.m. – The rumble of distant thunder.  Oh, no! not again…Josh grabs the computer from the bedside and checks the radar.  Line of storms running from southwest to northeast but looks like it’s probably going to go north of us.  Get up and start getting ready to leave.


8:30 a.m. – Knock on the camper door.  A nice gentleman from the tribe tells us…”We’ve been issued a tornado warning.  One was seen 20 miles west of here.  Just wanted to let you know.  We’ll sound a horn and the tornado shelter entrance is at the back of the bath house (pointing to a building about 75 yards away.”  We say, “Thanks.”


8:35 a.m. – Walked over to check out where exactly the door is.  Don’t want to have to find it in a blinding rain.  A few more couples join us.  It’s starting to get very windy, so we all just huddle around the door which leads down to an underground bunker.  We all hang out there for about the next 45 minutes…watching the clouds come over…watching the wind keep changing directions…and trading tornado and camper horror stories.  Finally, one guy says “Well I’ve had enough.  I’m rolling out of here.”  And off he and his wife go.  The other older couple sticks around for another few minutes and then they decide the same.  We figure, well we may as well too. 


9:52 a.m. – We’re heading out toward Duluth, MN, to see Lake Superior.  Josh wanted to wait a little longer to let the storm (which is heading in the exact direction we’re heading) get far enough ahead of us that we won’t run into the back of it.  I didn’t feel like playing the slots at the Casino, so I kinda wanted to get moving.  So, off we headed northeast on Route 23.  About an hour up route 23 we ran into the back of the storm.  We pulled over in front of a little mall to decide what to do next. While we were discussing it, the storm which had been moving northeast turned east south east and came right towards us.  The lady in Iowa said you can tell when there is a tornado coming because the sky turns green.  So when the sky started turning green we decided we needed to drive away from the storm.


We headed south and west on back roads and drove through some strong rain but nothing worse.  We luckily found a good local AM radio station (Minnesota Farm Network) and between soybean futures reports they kept us up to date on the progress of the storms through central Minnesota, including damaging wind, nickel sized hail, flash flooding (4” of rain in a very short period of time at one place we stopped), and several tornados.  So as I was driving, Denise was studying the map against what the radio station was telling us and navigated us around the tornadoes and hail.  Every time we stopped, the locals were all talking about how bad the weather was and how they hadn’t seen a day like this in a while.  We were still hoping to get to Duluth so we could see Lake Superior, but the route we took to avoid the storms resulted in going west then north then east to go northeast and probably added about 150 miles to the day.


When we arrived in Duluth, they were still predicting some serious weather overnight.  So, instead of staying in a campground we opted for the Country Inn and Suites outside of Duluth.  It was about 7:45 p.m. by that time, and we were lucky to get one of the last 3 remaining rooms.  I must admit that the prospect of a real shower (and Denise needed to shave her legs again!) played a little role in choosing to stay in a hotel.  This way we can drive into the city and along the lake without towing the camper.


-Dee and Josh


This is what the sky looked like when we first stopped at the shopping center.  By the time we left, it had shifted right over us and lightning was coming out of the clouds in 6 or 7 places at a time and it was hitting very close to us.  The rain was coming down in buckets.  I’ve (Denise) never “flown” out the back of a storm, but it was quite an experience dodging this monster storm.


Day #17, Friday (Sept. 21) - Unexpected Duluth



Close your eyes and picture Duluth, Minnesota – cold, blue collar, industrial, dirty…  That is roughly what we expected this morning as we set off to see the city.  The only bright side was that, since the hotel was nice and we were both a bit worn out from driving over 1100 miles in the last three days, we decided to stay an extra day at the hotel.  Since we are staying north of town, we unhooked the camper at the back of the hotel lot and just took the truck in to see Duluth and maybe drive up the southwestern shoreline a bit.  As we came over the hill and could see the city, it was bathed in fog and smoke and looked exactly like we expected.  However, when we got off the highway and into downtown, Duluth turned out to be a great city.


We drove past a giant General Mills grain elevator (where Cheerios come from), another maritime museum with a coast guard cutter and a freighter, and the aquarium which we may go back for.


Glensheen Mansion -- Driving north out of town we passed a sign that said historic home tours next right.  Denise immediately wanted to pull in, so we did and stumbled onto the most famous Duluth tourist site, run by the University of Minnesota with tours given by students.  ( ).  It is a mansion build on 22 acres on the shore of Lake Superior from 1905 to 1908 by a coal baron for his wife and 7 children.  Over the years, the acreage has decreased to about 7 acres.  The house itself was amazing.  They wouldn’t allow pictures of the interior and the website doesn’t have any interior pictures either.  I guess you’ll just all have to visit Duluth once in your lifetime and see for yourself.  Sorry.  The grounds were gorgeous.  We learned from one of the other visitors who happens to be from the Minneapolis area that there was a murder there in 1977.  It appears that the last remaining daughter, who was still living in the mansion with her nurse, was murdered (along with the nurse) by a relative who was looking to inherit the entire estate. 


We continued on up the shoreline and discovered Two Harbours which had some old trains on display and a giant ore freighter that was being loaded and getting ready to depart (see pictures).  Continued up the shoreline of Lake Superior and I (Denise) did get to put my hand in Lake Superior, but this time I didn’t get soaked from the waves.  There were also some neat tunnels carved into cliffs that you had to drive through.  All in all it was well worth the ride.  Wish we had time to go further north into Grand Portage and then on to Thunder Bay (Ontario), but that will have to be for another trip.


Grandmas (  ) – The same couple who told us about the murders at Glensheen, also told us about a landmark restaurant in the waterfront area of Duluth.  Apparently, the restaurant we ate at is the flagship location.  The atmosphere was carnival; the food was awesome; the waitstaff were very efficient and professional; and it was a lot of fun.  Evidently, wild rice if very popular up here in Minnesota as is freshwater fish, so we decided to immerse ourselves in the culture.  The chicken & wild rice soup was out of this world and the walleye served with wild rice and steamed carrots and broccoli was terrific.


The sample couple we met at Glensheen also told us about some places to see in South Dakota, so we’ve included them on our itinerary when we get down there.  This is the 2nd couple we’ve met while at a “tourist attraction” who have been very helpful with recommendations for things to do further west (remember the couple from the Hall of Fame who recommended Lambeau Field tours).


Overall, we are loving Duluth.


Josh & Dee


Day #18, Saturday (Sept. 22) - Minnesota's North Woods



Today we checked out of the hotel, but left the camper in their parking lot and took one more trip into Duluth to go to the aquarium.  Denise found the aquarium disappointing, though I thought it was OK.  However, being an engineer, I had the most fun helping the kids with a room-sized model of the great lakes and the lock systems that get boats from Superior to the Atlantic.  [Denise:  Josh was having a good time teaching the kids how to use the locks; however, I noticed the moms were getting a little nervous – a grown man interested in children – in this day and age, sadly, people think the worst].


Then, back to the hotel to reconnect the camper and off to Bemidji. MN.  We drove for about three hours through northern Minnesota, through open forest, swampland, and lakes.  Interestingly we also crossed the Mississippi river two or three times today, though up here it is really only a stream.  We are not too far from Lake Itaska which is the source of the Mississippi. The campground in Bemidji is likely the northernmost point on our trip.  It is fortunately unseasonably warm here this weekend so it shouldn’t get too cold tonight.


All in all, today was a rather noninteresting travel day.


-Josh and Dee


Day #19 - Sunday (Sept 23) - More Minnesota...



One more technical issue this morning.  I had been meaning to check the tire pressures for a while and I finally got to it this morning before we left.  As soon as I checked the first truck tire I knew that we had an issue.  The truck’s specs call for 60psi in the front tires and 80 psi in the rear.  Apparently when we got the oil changed and the tires rotated back in Wisconsin they swapped the front and rear tires but did not change the pressures – you would think that since it is spec’d by Chevy and it was a Chevy dealer they would have known what to do, especially since we are definitely in truck country.  Oh well, it is something that I will know to make sure of in the future.  So our first stop was a local gas station to get the tire pressures corrected.  It did help somewhat with the bumpiness we had been having, but not enough to think that the roads in Wisconsin didn’t suck!


Then we decided to head into Bemidji since we had passed it on the “highway” last night.  We followed the signs to town, but as best we could tell there really was no town.  There were two strip roads with big box retail and trailer parks and manufactured housing in between.  But nothing that looked like a real town.  If it was there we couldn’t find it and we drove around for a while looking.


Then we headed south and since we were looking for a challenge before lunch, we pulled over, took off our shoes, rolled up our pants, and walked across the Mississippi River.  Really!  Look below, there are pictures of Denise and I walking across the Mississippi.  This was in Lake Itasca State Park.  Lake Itasca is the source of the Mississippi and they have a very nice set-up and a short walk through the woods to the point where the Mississippi River flows out of the lake.  Of course at that point it is only a few feet wide and a few inches deep.  It will be interesting when we get to St. Louis to realize that we walked across the same river.


Drove west to Fargo.  We were contemplating staying there though the weather reports were calling for potentially severe weather in the Fargo area.  The further west we went the hotter it got and the stronger the winds got.  There was one gust that really got the trailer swaying until I got it back in line (Denise: Josh is understating this, it was a pretty scary few moments).  By the time we got to Fargo the temperature was near 100 and the winds were really whipping.  Frankly, other than the nice new bridge over the Red River (needed replacing after the great Red River flood of the spring of 1997) there didn’t seem to be much to see.  We decided to head south to avoid any potential weather.  There was a good looking campground listed in our guide in Ortonville, MN and it was part of the way towards De Smet, SD which is where one of the other things we want to see is (more on that later).


The drive was long and, since we were going into the wind the whole way, it was like driving up hill for two hours.  Back on the prairie so there was not much to see.  I think there was at least one half-hour stretch where we were the only car on the road!   The campground is nice and for the first time we are parked right on a lake (Big Stone Lake).  The campground is almost empty as this is the last week of the season for them so we have the whole lakefront to ourselves.  Since we had nothing to cook, we went into “town” and had dinner at the Matador Supper Club.  The food was not great, but it was Sunday night so they had the polka band in and the old people were all dancing - which was fun to watch.


-Josh and Dee


Day #20 Monday (Sept. 24) - Walnut Grove Redux



Neither of us slept well last night so we got off to a late start this morning.  We decided not to push it and to stay here in Ortonville, MN, another day, so we headed out for a ride at about 1:30 p.m.  Looking at the map, we realized that we are really not that far from where we had been in Minnesota a week ago (we really have done the circuit tour), and before long we were headed back towards Walnut Grove with the thought of catching the museum before it closed this time (5:00 p.m.)


Well, true to form we showed up at the museum in Walnut Grove at 4:30 p.m.  The woman asked where we were coming from, so I told her the story of how we were here too late last week, so we found ourselves in the area today and thought we’d try again.  Being from New Hampshire, we’d probably never get back here…she was very nice and let us do a whirlwind tour of the museum buildings FREE (it was only $5 admission anyway)!  Unfortunately, there was much more there than one would have guessed just by looking at the outside.  We did our best to make sure we saw the important things – a picture of Charles and Caroline and their children; a chronology of their lives, including births, etc.; lists of different places in the Midwest where they lived; and some artifacts that were either theirs or were part of Walnut Grove’s history (i.e., the original switchboards installed in 1903).  One news article mentioned that there was actually a sign marker where the Ingalls’ property was.  So, on our way out, we asked the lady where it was.  She gave us a map and told us to head North on country road 5.  Luckily, Walnut Grove is so small we found the road no problem.  We got to the sign and started up what we thought was a dirt road – it turned out to be a driveway to a farmhouse.  Confused, we backed out.  I called the museum (luckily someone was still there) and asked them if we were allowed to go up the driveway or what.  She said sure; there was a box to deposit an entrance fee in further along the driveway and then to keep going to the site.  So once again we headed up the driveway which wound through their front yard and cornfields; and, sure enough, there was the box (see picture).  


The site itself was basically a parking lot with paths through prairie grass and wildflowers.  At the end of or along each path were plaques explaining what had been there during the Ingalls’ time.  Most notable was the spot where it is believed their original “dug out” had been; it had caved in long ago.  A dug out is a one room “house” cut into the side of a hill with a sod front wall; which is different than a “soddie” which is four walls made of stacked sod.   Plum Creek was right down the hill from where the dugout was built.  Basically, they could walk out their front door and 20 feet down the slope was the creek.   It was quite interesting; and, if you looked off into the horizon of fields upon fields, you could imagine what they had seen while they lived there.  I couldn’t resist running down the hill of prairie grass and wildflowers (just like in the TV series).  (see pictures).


It was well worth the trip back there.


That was about all we did today.


Tomorrow, hopefully, we’re off to the next place that the Ingalls lived – De Smet, SD.


Dee & Josh

Also see the youtube video at Little House on the Prairie (you have to have seen the show to really get this)


Day #21 Tuesday (Sept 25) - Little town on the prairie



Welcome to Eastern South Dakota.  While checking out of the Ortonville, MN campground this morning we met the mother of Steve -- the owner who reminded us of a cross between Wayne Haskell, Tom Connor (from Roseanne) and David Lee Roth.  Unlike Steve who was so busy loving life and being friendly that he didn’t actually say much, his mother had a lot of useful information for us when she heard we were headed for South Dakota.  She suggested several places to see along the way.


We headed out, crossed Big Stone Lake into South Dakota, and headed for De Smet which is our first stop in SD and the site of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little Town on the Prairie -- It turns out that we are going to see several of her sites since we are going to wind up in several prairie states before we are done.  After De Smet, SD we are planning to eventually see Independence, Kansas (Yes Cathi we are probably going to Kansas) and ???  Missouri   Independence, KS, is the site of the actual little house on the prairie of Laura’s books.


Never know what you’ll see on the road:  So we’re driving along on a 2-land blacktop in SD and we came over a small rise and got stuck behind a house.  This is not a trailer mind you but a full-sized, two-floor house driving down the road.  It was slightly wider than both lanes of the two lane road we were on, so there was no way to pass.  The good news though is that unlike the house moving that you see on TV where they creep along, this guy was going about 35 MPH.  The really good news was that we were behind him, not coming the other way.  It was wider than the road and not stopping for oncoming traffic, which meant that everyone coming the other way was pushed off the road and had to be careful not to overturn into the 10-foot ditches that lined the road.  [See picture #2 – notice the house and the lights from an oncoming car that was forced to the side of the road.]    I don’t know what we would have done with the camper, because he wasn’t stopping for anything.


Anyway, decent driving through the state roads in SD into De Smet.  Stopped for lunch with the locals at the Ox Bow Restaurant which was established in 1976 (still in 70s motif, especially dark paneling and harvest gold counters) and is an establishment that capitalizes on the “Little House on the Prairie” series (which aired in 1974).  Then off to the site of the Ingalls’ homestead. 


Denise on the visit:  Again, it was “spiritual” to walk on the same land as the Ingalls.  This was Mr. Ingalls’s quarter section which is a half-mile x half-mile square.  This is really high grass prairie land here.  The Laura Ingalls Wilder Society manages the property and they’ve done a tremendous job of replicating life in the late 1800’s here in South Dakota.  They had a settler’s home, a dug out (see me cooking – those are sod walls dug into the ground – actually really creepy), barns, sample gardens, planted fields, the well and pump, a one-room schoolhouse, and a church.  There was so much to see at this site, that we didn’t have time to actually take the tour of DeSmet itself, where there are Ingalls’ historically significant buildings.  They made it easy for a  visitor to imagine herself back in 1879.  It was an experience I’m so glad I had a chance to do.    


From there we headed south to Mitchell, SD which is where the next campground was and also the Corn Palace that Steve’s mom (see above) said we had to see.  We dragged the camper down main street in Mitchell and pulled over across the street to see and get pictures of the Corn Palace (see pictures).  It was impressive in a “why would you do that” sort of way.  I guess there is not much entertainment in Mitchell, SD.  We stopped for groceries at a big store across from the Wal-Mart Supercenter (does supporting the competition make up for our few forays into Wal-Mart?).  We haven’t shopped for food since the Piggly Wiggly in Kewaunee, WI so we have been eating out too much and both of us were getting sick of it.  BBQ steak for dinner tonight!   [One note: we are now in the corn capital of the world, home of the famous corn palace, we’ve been driving through million acre corn fields for days, do you think we could get two decent ears of corn at the store for dinner???  Noooo!!!  We looked and looked in the vegetable section and eventually found a few lame looking ears of corn stuck between the broccoli and the Brussels sprouts.  The only thing we could imagine was that for people who work all day growing, harvesting, and processing corn, the last thing they want to eat for dinner is more corn.]


We had a choice of two campgrounds in Mitchell and chose the non-KOA this time and we seem to have made a good choice.  This guy is the only family run campground left in the area and he is doing a good job.  The place is clean, level, wooded, etc.  The only concern is that this is his last week in operation (so the store is mostly empty – we got the third to last bag of ice).  We are clearly starting to run into the end of the season and several of the sites we looked at for Wyoming and Montana are closing after this coming weekend.  Fortunately, if we make it that far, the big sites around Yellowstone seem to be open; and, looking ahead, it appears that most places in Colorado are open year round (“weather permitting”) – it looks like they take their camping seriously in Colorado!


-Josh and Dee


Day #22 Wednesday (Sept 26) - Anitques "Roadhouse"



South Dakota up to today – Grass, corn, soybeans, sunflowers, and a few roads – including Interstate 90.  Incessant wind!


Left Mitchell at elevation 1293 on Interstate 90 and 40 miles later were at elevation 1700!  Needless to say, this long climb was slow going pulling the camper, especially with a steady stiff headwind. 


Stopped for lunch at a combination rest area / Louis & Clark Exhibition overlooking the Missouri River (see pictures).  Evidently Louis & Clark stayed for some time at Camp Pleasant which was on the opposite bank of the Missouri.  We went to walk down a path to get a better view of the Missouri; however, the sign “Beware of Poisonous Snakes” kinda gave us pause and we turned back. 


Once we crossed the Missouri River and climbed out of the river valley, the landscape and tenor totally changed.  First of all, there is now only one road – Interstate 90.  Secondly, from looking back at the map, it appears that about 70% of South Dakota is divided into various Indian Reservations for the Sioux and the Lakota Indians.  Thirdly, it appears that crops are now secondary to beef cattle and grazing grasslands.  There were no houses or towns (you could see off the highway in both directions for miles and miles).  At one stop, someone mentioned that ranches (no longer farms) in these parts can be from 400 to 40,000 acres!  The highway is also lined with many, many billboards in the old Burma Shave style advertising such places as 1880s Town, Pioneer Auto Museum, Walls Drug, Petrified Forest, Prairie Dog Ranch, Reptile Village, and many more.  These parts of SD are like being in a perpetual carnival.


We couldn’t resist the call of the billboards and it was one of the things Steve’s mom (see a few days ago) suggested seeing while heading west in SD --Pioneer Auto in Murdo, SD.  All there is in Murdo is four gas stations, three trailer homes, and Pioneer Auto and its attached Diner. 


Though advertised as a classic car collection, it is much more than that.  We didn’t arrive there until 3:30 p.m. and figured they would close at 5:00, so when the lady at the entrance told us they were open til 9:00 we both said, “Oh we’ll have plenty of time”.  She just gave us a strange look.  The basic concept is that in the 1940’s the family started collecting old cars, antiques from Murdo, SD, and anything from the 1880’s-1920.  That collection has now grown to 30+ buildings packed with stuff.


They had literally hundreds of cars including three barns full of cars from the 1910’s and 20’s, Model T’s, Model A’s, and cars from companies that we have never heard of.  Handmade cars, antique trucks, concepts cars, then two buildings of 50’s cars and muscle cars including a 57 Chevy Bel Aire, one of the original General Lee’s (from the Dukes of Hazard), James Dean’s ’49 Mercury.  Then a barn full of antique motorcycles including Elvis’s Harley and a Harley snowmobile.  Then two buildings full of tractors, including the largest steam tractor that we had ever seen -- and stuck in with the tractors, the first camper, build on a truck body with the story of the couple who drove it around the country and then around the world in the 1920’s.  Then just building after building of antiques in various theme’s – an old railroad depot (with an antique caboose), an old pharmacy, an old bank, an old blacksmith shop, an old filling station, etc.  – each crammed floor to ceiling with antiques.  The amount of stuff there really defies description.


Now it’s 7:15 p.m. and our planned campsite is still 100 miles away.  Oh well…  After driving for about 30 minutes, we passed a sign on the highway that was a godsend – we changed time zones and gained an hour.  Now it’s only 6:45 p.m.  yeee ha!   Then we saw another “carnival sign” for the 1880 Town and a KOA campground right across the road.  Rather than go on to Interior, SD, which is where we had planned to stay, we pulled in to the KOA across from the 1880 Town (Belvidere, SD).  In keeping with the carnival atmosphere – the only things off this exit from Interstate 90 were the KOA and the 1880 Town with its own trailer park for its workers and a gas station attached to the 1880 Town entrance.


It wasn’t much of a campground – basically a few camping spots in a field (with a spectacular sunset [see picture]); but we hoped to get an early start at head over to the 1880 Town.


-Dee and Josh



Day #23 Thursday (Sept 27) - Delta 1



We got up very early this morning because when you are camped in a field on a clear prairie morning the sun is very bright.  We both decided that we would skip 1880 Town since we had seen similar stuff before.  So we got an early start and for the first time – WE WERE NOT THE LAST ONES OUT OF THE CAMPGROUND!


Also, we were both secretly hoping to get to the Minuteman II Missile Silo National Park in time to sneak on to the early tour.  We had called them a few days ago because the web site says that tour sizes are limited and that reservations are required.  Unfortunately they said on the phone that the tours were booked all week.  There are tours at 10:00 and 1:30, and we arrived there at 9:50.  I ran in and asked the ranger if we could get on to the 10:00 tour, when he found out that there were only two of us he said OK, but he needed to get us registered quickly since he was about to leave.  He also said that we would need to bring our own car since the sites are miles from the park headquarters and that we could not bring the camper because there would be no way to get it in and out of the sites.  So while Denise registered for the tour, I backed the camper into a parking spot in front of the Park headquarters and unhooked it from the truck in record time.  Meanwhile, another group came in but they were told there was no room on the tour. It turned out that there were only six people at a time allowed on the tour.  With the other two couples, we followed the ranger back onto I-90 (at the posted speed limit of 75 mph – which we haven’t been able to reach while towing the camper).  About 5 miles down the road, we pulled of an exit from I-90 with nothing but a bunch of cattle grazing and a one-story prefab building inside a fence.  This, we would soon learn, was the crew housing and security office; but, 30 feet below ground was the launch control center for 10 Minuteman Missiles located in silos within about a 20 mile radius of the control center.  This center was one of 5 centers in this part of South Dakota – each center responsible for its own set of 10 missiles.  Think about that…


How to describe the control center – did anyone see “War Games” or “Twilights Last Gleaming” or “Amazing Grace”.  Well they all depicted it quite accurately in terms of structure; however, our tour warden (who happened to be retired Air Force and who manned these centers) pointed out some interesting discrepancies in the depiction of the center’s operation.  Keep in mind that this was an actual site which is now decommissioned, as are all the Minuteman sites.  Don’t fret…there are still plenty of other class of missiles out there ready to “protect”.  Although, based on his description of what would happen when a missile explodes, I’m not sure “protect” is the correct term.  More like mutually assured destruction.  This site was preserved as it would have been in the 1960s, including all the old technology.  Ranger Kerry, having served in the centers, had a lot of good stories about how they were operated and pointed out some of the “stupidity” of the government folks who planned for what happens after they launch; i.e., an escape hatch filled with sand, basically no real way to survive past a few days.  (See pictures)  As far as the guys in the structure above ground, they were gone with the rest of us.


From there, we drove another nine miles west and took another I-90 exit to nowhere, to get to an actual missile silo located ¼ mile off the highway in the middle of a field.  The only thing above ground you could see was a fence; and, when you got to the fence, you could see a concrete pad under which was the missile.  For tourist purposes, they have the concrete hatch half slid back with a plexiglass enclosure down which you can view an actual decommissioned missile.  More gory “what-if” stories from Ranger Kerry.  While there we were joined by this really creepy guy who began asking bizarre questions like – “What happened to the fission and fusion material that used to be in this missile?” and “Could we intercept one of our own launched missiles?”  (Barry Brown knows the answer I’m sure.)  Anyway, here we are in the middle of freeking nowhere and it turns out this guy is from Boston!  AHHHHHH.  Can’t get away from Massachusetts people.




Instead of driving 17 miles back to the Ranger Station to get our camper, we decided, fortunately, to leave it there and do some sightseeing.  We decided to hit Wall Drug (a la billboards) for lunch and to see what all the hoopla was about.  The town of Wall is one big carnival with a distinct cowboy/Western flare.  No other way to describe it.  Had lunch at Wall Café in the Wall Drug complex (which in itself defies description – see picture).  It was too hokey for us, so we headed out to the Badlands.


Thank god we didn’t have the camper.  The first section, Sage Creek Rim Road was about 10 miles out and 10 miles back, unpaved, and right on the edge of a cliff much of the time.  We passed mountain goats right on the road and hundreds of prairie dogs -- but unfortunately didn’t see any Buffalo (though there was evidence that they had been there).  The next section, the scenic loop road, was paved but went even closer to the cliff edges and went up and down into and out of the valleys.  The Badlands again defy a good description with words, and still-pictures really don’t convey the right sense either.  It is as if a huge expanse of the flat grassland was eroded away leaving striated cliffs and valleys of sandstone, gravel, and sand.  This stretched on further than you can see and has different colors and different textures in different sections.  We drove for over 20 miles through this terrain and got out a few times to walk around for a closer look.  Again – “Beware of Poisonous Snakes”


Conveniently, the scenic loop road (not really a loop) ends near the Minuteman ranger station; so we gassed up and pulled in to reconnect to the camper.  We now have one more thing to check, because when we hooked up we discovered that the ball on the trailer hitch was loose.  Glad we brought a set of big wrenches.


From there we headed west and then south into the Black Hills National Forest towards Mt. Rushmore.  The town of Rapid City from what we could see is an ugly collection of trailers and prefab houses, and a lot of road construction and planned developments in former farm fields.  The Black Hills themselves are pretty steep so it was exciting pulling the camper through some of the smaller roads.  We had a choice between two highly rated campgrounds within a few miles of each other so we decided to check them both out since we are likely to be here for a few days.  One of them is supposedly the largest KOA, with all kinds of amenities; but we both knew right away after seeing it (a huge open space with hundreds of campers on paved sites and huge activities buildings) that we wanted to go to the other.  We have a nice wooded site here away from everyone, with full hookups (water, sewer, electric) plenty of room, plenty of privacy, and a weak but usable WiFi signal.  What more could we ask for.


-Josh and Dee


Day #24, Friday (Sept 28) - Tatanka

Hi all,


We’re still here in the Rafter J Bar Campground camped under a beautiful stand of Ponderosa Pines with the Black Hills in the background.  I must say, as far as camp site, this is the nicest site to camp that we’ve found yet.  We decided to stay here through Sunday a.m. because there are so many places to go and see.  Today we ventured to two of them.


Mount Rushmore:  What do you say about Mt. Rushmore?  It is what it’s supposed to be; but, having seen all the pictures and movies about it, it was no more impressive in real life.  The most interesting part was the museum about the workers and the tools of the time that were used to create this monument.  One thing we didn’t know was that originally the plan was to scupt these figures from the head to the waist.  They got part way down the chest are of Washington so you actually see the beginning of his jacket.  They couldn’t do the rest because the type of rock was not condusive to such detailed sculpting.  Other than that, we found it, even off season, to be an overdone tourist trap with a toll gate entrance to a multi level garage leading to a colossal entrance way onto a plaza of gift shop, bookstore, and café.  The walk of flags was quite impressive, but it wasn’t obvious why they chose the order to put them in.  So we spent about an hour and a half there and took some pictures.  We saw the short film about the man, Borglum, who was the sculptor visionary for the monument, and that was about it.


Route 16A  - Iron Mountain Rd.:  Although not a tourist site, this road is an adventure all on its own.  From Mt. Rushmore, we headed towards Custer State Park in the hopes of seeing buffalo.  The map and signs directed us onto Route 16A with no advance warning of the “uniqueness” of this road.  Route 16A, aka Iron Mountain Road, is the narrowest, twistiest, and scariest road we have ever been on, and we’ve been on a few.  This road included 5 MPH up and down hill hairpins, several one car wide tunnels, outside curves with multi-hundred foot drops and no guardrails, places where the path was so narrow that the road had to split into separate single lanes for each direction, and to give you a sense of the engineering, several Pigtail Bridges.  A Pigtail Bridge as we learned is a structure that allows the road to circle over itself in a spiral to gain altitude in a small area.  Since we were both hanging on for dear life we were not able to get pictures, but see: (by the way the pictures in the article make it look much larger and more open than it really is.)  During this whole section Josh had a white knuckle grip on the wheel at 2 and 10 o’clock just like they taught in drivers ed, and Denise alternated between asking to slow down and move into your own lane and laughing hysterically – not sure if the situation was funny or terrifying! 


Custer State Park:  When we finally got to Custer State Park, we paid our entrance fee to the ranger and asked her where would be the best place to see Buffalo.  Without missing a beat she said “Yellowstone”. Ha Ha.  She said that since this was the weekend for the round-up (more on that later) we were unlikely to be able to see any buffalo.  She marked a spot on the map where there “might be a few, if they are close enough to the fence to see.”  We stopped at the park visitor’s center and took a picture of Denise with the stuffed buffalo just in case we did not see a real one.  We also learned that the roundup is done once a year, where they round up all of the buffalo in the park into a large corral so that they can check them all and auction some off to keep the herd at the right size for the park (1500 head).  The roundup will take place this Monday, and probably explains all of the cowboy types with horse trailers that we have been seeing driving in this direction for the past few days. We discussed staying a few extra days to see it -- they have public viewing areas.


Slightly disheartened but still hopeful, we headed out on the Wildlife Loop Road anyway.  We saw deer, pronghorn antelope, wild turkeys, and kept scanning the horizon for buffalo.  Then we came over the hill and realized that the ranger at the entrance was very wrong.  There were hundreds of buffalo, coming in across the fields and roads towards the corral.  It was as if the herd knew that it was roundup time and was coming in on its own.  Since the road is on the inside of the fence, we were literally surrounded by buffalo.  We sat there for over a half hour just watching them go by and looking off into the distance at the hundred more still coming.  This was, at least for us, the ultimate buffalo viewing experience.  Don’t know if there will be anything left for the roundup folks to see or do.  When we were ready to head on we had to find a break in the herd to drive through.  We wound up having lines of buffalo cross the road in several places where we had to stop and wait for them or slowly drive through, including one place where they were walking on one lane of the road and we’re driving the other way in the other lane, and they kept looking up at us as we drove past.


Since pictures couldn’t really capture what was going on, we took a few short movies.  You can see them at:


Route 87 – Needles Highway: After we left Custer State Park, the only road back to the campground (without going all the way around the park and going back across Iron Mountain Rd. was 87, also called the Needles Highway.  This road turned out to be almost, but not quite, as scary as Iron Mountain Rd.  It included several even smaller tunnels and some incredible views of rock formations.  One Tunnel was only 8’ 7” wide and we had to fold in the side mirrors for the truck to fit through.


-Dee and Josh


Also see the YouTube videos at: Buffalo 1  Buffalo 2  Buffalo 3


Day 25, Saturday (Sept 29) - Crazy Horse

Hi all


First of all – Happy Birthday Elisabeth – she is 6 years old today!  We love you and miss you.


Crazy Horse Memorial:  We don’t know about the rest of you, but we had never heard of the Crazy Horse Memorial.  It turns out that Chief Henry Standing Bear commissioned a sculptor who had helped Borglum with Mt. Rushmore to create a memorial in the Black Hills, which is considered sacred ground to Native Americans.  He wanted the world to know that Native Americans had their heroes also.  They chose Crazy Horse because he was instrumental in defeating Custer at Little Big Horn and he was the only leader who refused to give up his land – saying when asked where his land is, he pointed out over the horizon and said “My land is where my people lie buried”.  This scene is what is being carved into Thunderhead Mountain.   The sculptor they chose was Korczak Ziolkowski (who was born in Boston ) .  He took the commission and came to the Black Hills in 1947 to begin the task.  First he had to make a road by himself; then he had to build a shelter by himself; then he had to blast rock by himself; then he had to sculpt by himself.  He was already 40 years old when he started.  He met and married a local woman named Ruth.  They had 10 children together – 7 of whom have made continuing their father’s legacy as their life mission.  Ruth continued his vision and saw that the project continued, even after Korczak died in 1982.  They believe it will take generations (estimated time to completion about 100 years) to finish the monument – which is larger than Mt. Rushmore, larger than the Washington Monument; and will probably be the largest in the world.  The site is totally privately funded and totally managed by Native Americans.  They have amassed an amazing collection of Native American history, artifact, and art [including some of the famous $24 beads that were used to purchase Manhattan island].  As much as Mt. Rushmore didn’t live up to our expectations, the Crazy Horse Memorial exceeded them.  While we were having lunch in their restaurant, Ruth came out onto the deck right outside our window to do a TV interview.  We were lucky enough to discretely get a few pictures of her and, what we believe, is her daughter.


See link    See pictures ………


Deadwood and Boot Hill:  From Crazy Horse we drove north to Deadwood, which was one of the early frontier gold rush towns where the infamous Boot Hill Cemetery is located.  Unfortunately, the gold rush still seems to be going on, and the only thing to do in Deadwood is gambling.  Since that doesn’t appeal to either of us, we chose to see the one historic site and then hit the trail.  Boot Hill is actually Mt. Moriah Cemetary and is literally located on the side of a mountain.  We didn’t actually roll the truck getting there, but it was close.  Josh, having been to San Francisco, says that the streets to the cemetery were worse here in Dead\wood.  At the cemetery we saw the graves of Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickock.  There were other graves of “famous” Deadwood people, but these were the only ones we had heard of.  The cemetery is still being used as a cemetery, as best we could tell; however, we can’t figure out how they get the caskets up the steep, steep hills.  Of note, it is also the first Jewish cemetery in the West with street names such as Jerusalem and Mt. Zion.  See pictures…..


Lead, SD – Homestake Gold Mine:  Since there was nothing for us to do in Deadwood and it was still early, we decided to drive to its sister city, Lead, SD, which is located, you guess, up a steep hill from Deadwood.  We didn’t expect much; however, we stumbled across the Homestake Gold Mine and the “open cut” which is right in the middle of the town.  As it turns out, Homestake is the largest yield gold mine in the world and operated for 125 years, just closing down in 2002.  There was a small museum (free) with an informative film (free) which explained the history of the mine and its decommissioning and reclamation of the site, leaving the “open cut” for viewing.  The “open cut” is basically a big hole in the middle of town that is ½ mile around x 1500 feet deep which is the remains of the first portion of the mine.  The area immediately surrounding the “open cut” has been turned into a public park area, and they’ve taken some of the mine equipment and painted them with bright colors and put them on display in the park.  See pictures….


An added bonus was that, when we arrived at the parking lot, there were a number of antique muscle cars.  It turns out that they were in the middle of a poker run.  But the interesting thing for me (Denise) was that finally I got to see a 1970 Plymouth Duster 340.  Granted it was yellow, but it’s the first one we’ve seen since 1973 (when Jerry totaled my Duster – still haven’t forgiven him for that one).  See pictures…


Road home:  Since we weren’t towing the camper and since we’re both out of our minds, rather than take the safe known route back, we decided to cut through the Black Hills on country roads back to Hill City (where our campground is).  This involved following Route 17 (a 2 lane blacktrop) through very pretty scenery and which seemed to follow the valleys rather than the ridges.  We were fine until it turned to dirt about 3 miles outside of what the map called  Rochford, SD.  Basically, the town was two houses, a store with 4 guys sitting on a porch, a building they named Rochford University (looked like an old garage), and a few other buildings with old rusted cars in front.  All of this at a 3-way dirt intersection..  At this intersection, we took one of the two other dirt roads which we hoped would lead to what the map called Mystic, SD.  Mystic, it turns out has had several iterations as a town but currently does not exist.  Fortunately, there was a sign that read “Site of the former town of Mystic”.  At least we knew we were still on the road to Hill City.  After 15 miles of dirt roads, we eventually came out exactly where we expected we would – just in time too, because it was getting dark (here that means at 6:45 p.m.)


Safely back at the campground, once again we BBQ’d in the dark long after our neighbors (all 4 of them) had gone to sleep. 


Josh & Dee


Day 26, Sunday (Sept 30) - Down day



Today we were going to head to Wyoming, but in the end decided to stay at this site one more day and take a down day.  This campground is just so relaxing and beautiful with the Black Hills in the background and the Ponderosa pines surrounding us.  All we did today was some laundry (7 loads!), a walk around the campground, and then sit by the campfire.  That’s it.  No adventures.  No Patriots game because they are playing Monday night.  Go Pack Go, 4 and 0 for the season.  Nothing else.


-Josh and Dee


Day 27, Monday (Oct 1) - Where the Deer and the Antelope "Hide"



We crossed into Wyoming today.  We discussed heading further west or turning south and decided to head south.  We have already seen buffalo and even if we made it to Yellowstone (the next logical goal to the west) we would only have a few days there.  We have to be in St. Louis on the 13th and have a few things we want to see in Kansas and Missouri.  So we are now southbound (though still heading a bit west.).  Of note, we continued the concept of asking people we meet about things to do along the way… It turns out that the couple staying near us in Hill City, SD were from Kansas, so after talking about how far away NH is and sharing some road stories, we asked them what there is to do in Kansas.  After thinking for a few minutes the answer was nothing, which is not that encouraging.


Once again the terrain changed.  It is now open range; we know that because along the road there was an old “range” with its oven door open and a sign that said “Open Range”.  Really though, we are in the Thunder Basin National Grasslands.  If we described South Dakota as wide open, it at least seemed friendly.  Wyoming’s terrain is wide open in a scary way.  There aren’t the friendly crops and water holes and little towns with populations of 200 or less.  In Wyoming, the open land is just that – open.  The terrain is basically grazing grass and sagebrush with some badlands-like buttes thrown in for good measure.  In SD, the farmhouses were somewhere in the middle of their fields and were surrounded by copses of trees (which they obviously planted as shade and wind break).  In Wyoming, what “houses” we did see were falling apart and they all had “yankee yards” with no trees or anything.  There are herds and herds of cattle, but you can’t tell where the ranch is that they belong to.  As far as we can tell, there is no ground water.  A weather forecast we heard on a local radio station mentioned that their normal precipitation is about 5 ½ inches May through August, and they’ve only gotten 4 inches this year.  He also mentioned with some surprise in his voice that the current relative humidity was 10% (the temperature was 82 degrees).  Every place that looks like it should have been a pond or creek (even creeks with names) are all dry.  The one good thing we saw were the herds of wild antelope pretty much everywhere.  On a bad note, along with the new terrain we have moved from the land of incessant wind to the land of oppressive wind.  Once we came down out of the Black Hills into eastern Wyoming, the wind really picked up; and we spent the rest of the day fighting 30+ mph headwinds and crosswinds (which were by far the most frightening that we’ve dealt with). 


Since we missed a turn in Custer, SD we wound up entering Wyoming further north than we had planned and when we looked at the map we realized that we were not that far from Devils Tower.  We couldn’t pass that up so we took a 75 mile (one way) side trip to see the site of Close Encounters.  The wind got worse as we headed northwest, and when we stopped in Moorcroft for gas and lunch the wind was so bad that we had trouble walking across the parking lot, and had to park the camper facing into the wind.  By the time we got up to Devils Tower, the wind was blowing hundreds of tumbleweeds across the road and into the canyon that was 10 feet away from the side of the road we were driving on (the direction the wind was trying to force us into).  This was extremely scary.  We basically pulled off the road in the scenic turnout, took some pictures, and then turned around and headed back.  Back to Moorcroft to the same gas station to get gas and then on to Lusk, WY where we had planned to spend the night.  Leaving Moorcroft we passed a sign saying “next gas 81 miles”, now we are really out west.  It turns out also that part of the road we were on in Moorcroft was the Old Texas Trail which was used from 1880 to 1890 and Moorcroft was the largest shipping point for cattle and sheep in the US.  Moorcroft today is an odd little town.  It seems to be made up of corrugated metal Quonset huts and light industry buildings along with some oil derricks and an oil refinery and storage tanks as well as a coal shipping railway hub.  As far as we could tell, 90% of the housing was older model (1950’s) trailers with abandoned cars and trucks everywhere that date from the 1940’s on.  When we passed through the second time, the elementary school on Main Street was letting out.  There were quite a few of the kids who were walking home.  There were two in particular who couldn’t have been more than 5 years old, and they were walking by themselves on the sidewalk on Main Street.  Also, on leaving Moorcroft the second time, just as we were leaving town by the south road, I (Denise) turned to my right and saw an antlered elk just walking down the access drive of the oil refinery storage tank yard.  It happened so fast I couldn’t get the camera in time, and there was no place to turn around, so I missed the picture.


Also, it turns out that today it the first day of deer and antelope hunting season in Wyoming.  Everyone seems to have taken the day off from work, put on their camouflage and their blaze orange baseball caps, and headed out in their pickups to hunt.  Now in New England, deer hunting involves long walks through the woods, following deer trails, waiting in blinds, and actually hunting the deer.  In Wyoming, everything is wide open, and there are deer and antelope everywhere.  We must have seen hundreds along the sides of the road (and almost hit one antelope buck who decided to walk out into the highway in front of us).  So hunting out here involves driving your truck to a high spot on the highway, pulling into the breakdown lane, and trying to decide which of the deer and antelope around you to shoot. 


The road from Moorcroft to Lusk, runs through the grasslands for 81 miles with no services – except for one State rest area about ½ way that looked like a normal modern rest area; however, the first thing you noticed upon entering was the stench and then you noticed the flies; the stalls all had outhouse style toilets that were basically an aluminum-lined hole leading god knows where, but covered in flies; I must complement them though on their beautiful slate-tiled floors.  Couldn’t get out of there fast enough; one of the hunters could see I was traumatized and held the front door open for me so I could escape without having to touch anything.


We arrived in Lusk and found BJ’s Campground, pretty much located in the middle of town, with no problem.  Mr. BJ was quite a character.  When he learned that we were from NH, he told us about his grandfather was originally from NH and moved to Montana when he was 14 to become a cowboy.  The campground itself has only 25 sites located on both sides of a side street off of Main Steet.  Most of the other campers are hunters.


On the bright side, the campground has cable TV and we got here early enough to watch most of the Patriots v Bengals game (it started at 6:30 p.m. mountain time).


- Denise & Josh



Day #28, Tuesday (10/02) - Manifest Destiny

Hi All,


Left Lusk, WY, and headed south to Fort Laramie, WY.  We headed west on route 18 for a bit and then south on 270 for 50 miles.  More of the open range concept which could best be described as barren, almost moonscape.  One thing we haven’t mentioned is that the roads on both sides are lined with barbed wire fencing, even on the open range sections.  Don’t know who put them up or who maintains them, but they are everywhere where there is a road.  Also, all the side drives off the main and secondary roads in South Dakota and Wyoming have what are called Cattle Grates embedded into the road surface.  Basically, these are metal grates that span the width of the road and are about 4 feet in breadth.  Apparently, cattle and cows and bison won’t walk across an open grating – we don’t know why but they won’t.  From route 270 we turned west onto route 26 into Guernsey, WY.  According to the maps, there were two State historic sites – (1) Register Cliffs and (2) Oregon Trail Ruts.  No other explanation was given on the maps or further direction other than they were somewhere within the boundary of Guernsey.  So, we stopped for gas at the only station in town and asked one of the locals if he knew where these sites were.  He directed us to turn back east about 2 blocks and then take a right at the “old bank”.  Who were we to question a local – we followed his directions; and, lo and behold, we found the markers leading to these two sites.  From their descriptions (register cliff and Oregon trail ruts) we had no idea what to expect.  As has been the case on this trip so far, when we stumble upon a free historic marker /site we were more than pleasantly surprised. 


Register Cliffs:  It turns out that these cliffs are limestone cliffs that border the North Branch of the Platte River in Guernsey and are adjacent to flat expanses on the south bank of the river.  It was a day’s travel from Fort Laramie, WY, which, among other things, served as a rest and re-stocking post for wagon trains of pioneers moving west.  These soft limestone cliffs were easy to carve into so the pioneers left their names and dates scratched into the rock cliffs.  You can still see some of the old names from the 1850’s onward; including those from current day travelers.  There was also a small graveyard from the Oregon Trail day with several graves clearly demarcated by stones placed around a raised mound of earth.  Apparently, there are two other known sites of such recordings – Independence Rock and Hill Cliffs, both of which were further west.


Oregon Trail Ruts:  We weren’t sure what to expect from this historic site; but, in fact, you can really see the grooves worn into the limestone rock by the thousands of wagons who ascended and descended the hills outside Guernsey along the Oregon Trail.  The state-preserved trail at this historic site had many plaques along the way explaining the history of the Oregon Trail and the western migration.  Totally fascinating.  A jewel in the rough.


From there we headed east on Route 26 to Ft Laramie, WY.  Just south of the town of the current town of Ft. Laramie, WY, is the remains and reconstruction of the original Ft. Laramie.  We spent several hours braving the oppressive winds of the Wyoming plains to walk the site and visit the historically reconstructed buildings and grounds.  Although we were off-season and didn’t have the benefit of historic reenactments and living history, there was still a lot to see.  The accompanying map and historic introduction video were instrumental in understanding the history of the Fort and its significance in western expansion.  This is where the peace treaties with the 10 Indian Nations of the Plains were negotiated and signed in 1851 and then modified in 1868.  Since these treaties were broken by the U.S. Government, it wasn’t until Wounded Knee in December of 1890, when the Native Americans were totally driven back to their reservations, that this fort was decommissioned and replaced by Fort Robinson in northwester Nebraska – closer to the Indian reservations set up in South Dakota.  The history here is too complicated to write in a blog; however, feel free to ”refresh” your memories of grade school history and Google search any of these events.  If any of you have seen the mini-series or read the book by James Mitchner “Centennial” you’ll recall a lot of these historical elements, although they may be mentioned by a different name “to protect the innocent.”  If you haven’t seen or read “Centennial” I recommend it as excellent viewing/reading.  Upon leaving the fort site, we passed a rather old sign that read “Welcome to Ft. Laramie, WY, Home of 250 Good People and 6 Soreheads.”


From there we drove south on route 85 to Cheyenne, WY.  We believe we recognized missile silos positioned along this road; however, we didn’t stop to verify.


We reached Cheyenne after dark and pulled into our targeted campground, which was rated as a Woodall’s 4-star (it also happened to be a Good Sam affiliate).  Can anyone say “packed in as sardines.”  This is the least camping campground we’ve been to.  It’s more like a parking lot for RV’s with the sites being barely 20’ wide.  Our trailer with the slide-out open is about 11 or so feet.  On the RV scales, we are small – the ones on each side of us are the behemoth Class A diesels with quadruple slid-outs.  We feel squished.  Thank God it’s only for one night with a check out of 10:30 a.m. – yeow!


Since we arrived late and Cheyenne may be the only large city we see for awhile, we opted  to find a restaurant for dinner.  The campground owners recommended a place called Poor Richards in downtown Cheyenne and gave us directions.  This turned out to be a medium good steak house with the interesting special of half priced bottles of wine on Monday and Tuesday nights (with the ability to legally take home the remainder).  Needless to say, Josh’s glass of Cabernet turned into a half a bottle, and we now have the other half for some future dinner.  Surprisingly, even though they were OK with a bottle of wine for one person, they mentioned that the limit on beers was four for a single person.  Fortunately, I only ordered three.


Cheyenne is also home to Warren Air Force Base, so we had several big jets fly over on our way back form dinner.   We think one of them was a stealth bomber.


Since we are planning to head into Colorado just for a drive and then into Nebraska for our next stop, this is our furthest west camp site.  It is also our highest.  Sitting here in the campground we are about 6100’ above sea level – basically the same as the top of Mt. Washington.  It is all down hill from here.


-Dee and Josh


Also see the YouTube video: Fort Laramie


Day #29, Wed (Oct 3) -- Centennial



After a noisy morning of departing big rig campers, we pulled out of the RV parking lot (because that’s basically what the campground is) in Cheyenne and headed south towards Colorado.  Since we didn’t have a Colorado map, we took I-75 as far as the Colorado welcome center in Fort Collins.  Along the highway we saw more antelope and a few camels (yes, camels?! – who knew?) and a wind turbine farm.  Finally, we saw the circular fields (which are planted that way to accommodate irrigation booms that work in a circular motion) that I have been telling Denise about, since they are so obvious from the air. As we got further into Colorado we could finally see the Rockies.  We felt like many of the pioneers making the classic decision of seeing the Rockies and then turning around, because later today we start heading back East.


At the Colorado welcome center, we were assaulted by a very well meaning woman who wanted to convince us to visit every art museum in Colorado and was really disappointed to find that we intended only to drive through a corner of her fine state and spend the night in Nebraska.  Eventually we escaped the visitor center with a map, the state tourism brochure (and detailed lessons on how to use it), about 7 pamphlets for tourist attractions (mostly art museums), and a rough plan of where we were headed.  The only thing of interest in the general direction we are headed (towards southwest Nebraska) was the Overland Trail Museum in Sterling, Colorado.. We headed east out of Fort Collins on state highway 14, glad to be off the interstate.  The surroundings rapidly changed from suburban to rural; and we passed a lot of farms and feed yards, including a sheep feed yard with hundreds of sheep, the smell of which lingered with us for miles.  Shortly after that we passed a manure processing plant which had hills of manure just piled in rows outside the plant.  Then we entered the Pawnee National Grasslands which were defiantly back to prairie terrain.  Along with the grassland, there were oil wells; and on the Pawnee Buttes there was a very large wind turbine farm with hundreds of those big white windmills.  Denise continued her antelope spotting and search for missile silos.  She saw one site that looked like it might be a silo, but it was too far from the road to be sure.  She also spotted what she believed was another missile control hut – a nondescript metal one-story building in the middle of no where which wasn’t a house and which had a chain fence surrounding it.  It sort of stands out like a sore thumb based on the fact that there really are no houses in that area and houses around here are usually trailers.  Then about 10 miles down the road there was a similar looking silo-complex (high fence with antennas and no buildings) so we pulled over to take a closer look.  DHS is currently updating their files on us because this was definitely a silo (the sign on the gate just said N-5) so we took some pictures.  Now that we knew what they looked like (slightly different from the decommissioned one we saw in SD) we spotted several more along the way – M-7 and M-6 (both on route 14 in Colorado) and then J-14 and J-3 (both on route 113 in Nebraska).  We don’t think these silos are decommissioned ones.


We finally made it to Sterling; and, after lunch at a Country Kitchen (ruled out Wendy’s and Sonic and couldn’t find a local sandwich place), we went to visit the Overland Trail Museum.  The museum was a very interesting but very eclectic collection of items from the past of the town of Sterling.  They included everything from fossils to Indian arrow heads to old firearms, to a stuffed two headed calf, to old medical equipment to doll collections, to WW- I and II memorabilia, to old clothes, to a display about one of the benefactors who was a leader in rural electrification.  Then outside of the museum building itself, they had several out buildings set up as an old barn, print shop, general store, one-room schoolhouse, church, barber shop, etc.  Interestingly, one of the reasons we headed into northeast Colorado was because of the James Mitchner book and the miniseries Centennial.  Centennial is the story of the history of a Colorado town from Indian times to the present (which was mid-1970s).  The story is supposed to be based on the town of Greeley, Colorado, though that is now a 70,000 person suburb of Denver.  However, as we went through the history of Sterling we felt that it was much closer to the story in Centennial.  Looking through some old clippings in the museum we found several stories that were close to those used in the book, including a school bus lost in snow, the sugar beet industry, a Japanese family, and a German immigrant who came to Colorado via Russia. It was as if you could feel Mitchner there, and then we found an article saying that Mitchner had in fact been there at the museum doing research.


Leaving Sterling, we headed north in search of Iliff, CO, the ranch upon which the Veneford Ranch was based in Centennial.  Iliff turns out to be a cross between a ghost town and a trailer park.  There really was nothing there.  However, in the 1880’s it was the headquarters of the largest ranch in the country with land extending west to Cheyenne and north to Nebraska. 


Having gone to Iliff, we headed north towards Sidney, NE, which was part way between the two possible campgrounds that we had looked up last night.  We could go west (the wrong way) 30 miles to Kimball, NE, or east 100 miles to Ogallala, NE.  It was starting to get late and we were in a part of Nebraska that we had not really planned on being in, so we took one more look at the campground book and we discovered that Cabella’s (L.L. Bean of the West) is headquartered in Sidney, NE; and behind their flagship store they have a highly rated campground.  Since it was only 4 miles from where we were, we decided that we couldn’t pass it up.  Other than being very near the highway this turns out to be a very nice campground, and is nearly full!


-          Josh & Dee



Day #30 (Thurs) 10/4 - Cabela's

Hi All,


As we told you in yesterday’s blog, we spent the night in the campground area run by Cabela’s and located on the property of their retail store here in Sidney, NE.  Having bought stuff from their website but never having been in one of their retail stores (there are none in the Northeast), we figured we probably should go in and at least take a look.  Two hours and mucho bucks later…  The store was great. 


For those of you who don’t know, Cabela’s is a major outdoor outfitter (hunting, fishing, camping, etc), basically what L.L. Bean used to be before they became a preppy clothing store. The store was open-concept, but two stories high, and huge.  In addition to having a great collection of stuff in the middle of the store, they had a display on big game animals with stuffed elk, moose, bears, etc. that took up a portion of the back of the store and reached up to the ceiling.  We couldn’t help ourselves and bought camping stuff (we are camping after all) some fishing stuff, boating stuff, shoes, gloves, gun stuff, gifts, etc.  It was great but definitely the most expensive day we have had on the trip. 


After having sandwiches at the Cabela’s lunch counter called “Cache”, we headed east on Route 30 and passed through a whole bunch of what can only be described as ghost towns.  Evidently, before Highway I-80 was put in which basically parallels Route 30 about a mile to the south, this two-lane blacktop must have been the main east-west route here is south central Nebraska.  There is an extremely active railroad track that parallels Route 30 about 50 yards to the south.  Throughout our whole trip along this road, there were constant mile-long trains going both ways, with up to five engines and traveling at up to 60 MPH.  We ran parallel to one train for at least 20 minutes while three others passed in the other direction.


Somewhere along the way we passed back into the Central Time Zone so we are now only one hour off from everyone.  This also helps because it is Survivor night and here it is on at 7:00 versus the 6:00 it is on in the Mountain Time zone (which is just way too early to start watching TV).


We ended up only traveling about 120 miles today and are spending the night in North Platte, NE, a town of about 25,000 people.  In North Platte is The Union Pacific Bailey Train Yard, the largest train yard in the world.  It is also where the North Branch and the South Branch of the Platte (the river which Centennial is centered around) divide from the Platte River.


That’s it for today….


-Josh & Dee



Day #31, Friday (Oct. 5) - More about last night and today is a driving day

Hi All,


Well, it turns out we sent out our blog Thursday evening too early.  After we sent it, we went out to a restaurant we had passed on the way to the campground (which are really RV parks – Jim:  What’s the difference between a campground and an RV park?  If there is a difference, which is better?).  We’ve been jones’ing for Mexican, and this place was called “Little Mexico”.  How bad could it be?  Actually, the food wasn’t bad at all; although, when we walked in, there was no one in the restaurant part – they were all in the bar.  Normally, we don’t mind eating in the bar section; however, this was the restaurant’s smoking section – so we opted for the dining room.  All the chairs were up on the tables; luckily, they had several booths lining two of the walls.  So we chose a booth in front of one of the TV’s – the one that had the Yankees v Indians game on.  We only caught the last two innings, but it was enough to see the Indians soundly beat the Yankees.  Yeah… 


When we left the restaurant, we decided to do a little sightseeing in the downtown part of North Platte.  We were doing fine until we took one particular right-hand turn that put us into a new housing development that turned out to be a maze!  We finally found our way out of that, only to find ourselves on the wrong side of the Union Pacific railyard.  We were following one car, which we hoped would lead us out; but, no…he turned into the railyard; then we saw a bunch of other cars turning into the railyard – they must have been arriving for the third shift at the yard (it was by now about 11:00 p.m.).  On the good side, we got to see the yard in action.  One thing I had never seen before was the sorting of railcars.  We got to watch as they were lined up on a track, which had a “bump” in it that is about 30’ high (think of a roller coaster) and a control house at the top.  An engine pushes the line of cars slowly up to the bump one car at a time.  As each car reaches the top, it is disengaged and allowed to free roll down with switches remotely set (by the control tower) to send the car down the appropriate track for the next train that it will be part of.  Nathaniel – you would have loved it…


Bored with that, we still had to find our way back to the “right” side of the tracks.  We headed down one road that just seemed to follow the yard forever, but it just kept going out into the prairie.  We made a U-turn and eventually broke down and brought out the GPS to get us out of there.  It was the first time on the trip we had to resort to GPS technology.  Normally, we like getting lost; but it was late, the road (to me) was getting scary, and nature was calling.


So that’s that.


So Friday morning, after 30 days on the road, 6,000 road miles, and 14 states, we “hit the wall”.  We were both tired and had really seen all that we wanted to see in the plains.  This often happens to us on road trips when we start heading in the direction of home; and, if we didn’t have commitments “down the road”, we would have seriously considered just heading back to NH.  However, they say that, when you hit the wall, the thing you need to do is push through it; so we decided to push.  We picked a highly rated campground far away, but in the direction that we were headed and something that should be a change of scenery, and headed out for a marathon drive; in the hopes of staying there a few days – doing some repairs, grocery shopping, and laundray as well as taking a few day trips.  The site we picked was in southwest Missouri (Carthage), about 600 miles away from North Platte, Nebraska.  We got a late start (since we had been out late the night before – lost in the Union Pacific railyard) and at noon we headed out.  We still did our best to avoid highways (we do about the same speed, 60-65 MPH on a good state road as we do on the interstate; and there are way fewer tractor trailers and much better ambience); and we drove non-stop for 13 hours through the rest of Nebraska eastward and then south into Kansas – driving completely through Kansas from north central to southeast and arrived at the campground at about one in the morning.  Along the way we passed many more trains heading into the rail yard, more ghost towns; and then as we got further east, more corn and soybeans, vs. the cattle that we had been seeing in the west.  The only casualties of the long drive were that when we stopped for dinner (Wendy’s) and gas outside Wichita we discovered that the truck bed cover no longer opens; and in Fredonia, KS we realized that the binoculars, which had been kept in the passenger side door, had fallen out somewhere along the way.  Also, though we didn’t realize it until we arrived, somewhere along the way one of the cupboard doors opened so some of the food fell out.


We had called ahead around mid-day and the campground only had one site left, which we reserved.  At about 9:30 PM they called us back to say that someone had driven in late and taken the one site that had been reserved for us, so they told us to park in the overflow site, which was really the parking spot for the office, with the water and electric connection coming from the back of the owner’s house (which meant going through the “employees only” gate and walking through their vegetable garden and unconnecting their garden hose).  We were so tired that we only hooked up the electric to run the air conditioner – it was still 76 degrees at 1:00 AM.  We then went to bed with the faint hope of being able to change sites in the morning – this is the holiday weekend and the park was completely full.


-          Josh & Dee


Day #32, Saturday (10/06) - Carthage, MO



So today was a bit of a catch up day for us after the marathon yesterday.  We slept until about 11:00 and then I went to see if we could move into a better site.  It turns out that much of the park is now empty (I think we misunderstood and the holiday weekend just involves a lot of people on the road, not a lot of people in this campground for the whole weekend).  We moved to a much better site at the end of a row with trees behind us, a level parking spot, and a small concrete patio with a picnic table.  Now that we are in a better spot we’ll probably stay a few days, take it easy, and get caught up on things.


After we moved and set up, I pulled out the tool box and fixed a lot of items that have broken but that we haven’t had time to repair.  I fixed the bed cover on the truck, the cable TV wire that got mangled, the squeaky latch on the passenger side rear door on the truck, the kitchen drawer that didn’t latch, etc.  Unfortunately, this exercise also pointed out several manufacturing/assembly issues with the camper that we’ll have to have Camper’s Inn deal with when we get back.


Denise went to check out the laundry and talked with the owner in the office, and she told Denise where the laundry was but said “don’t park under the walnut tree”.  We had noticed the night before in the crappy spot that there was a tree near our camper dropping these small fruits that we kept stepping on.  It turns out that these are walnuts (neither of us had ever seen a walnut tree).  The nut itself is inside the fruit.  We opened one up and low and behold there was a walnut.


Then we went for a drive to see Carthage and do some grocery shopping.  The old downtown was very interesting.  It was a classic square with the county courthouse in the middle and the post office, city hall, and shops along the road around it.  However, the downtown now appears to be the poor section of town and most of the buildings were run down.  We drove out to find the Civil War battle site and also found a section of the old Route 66.  The Civil War site was a little disappointing based on the number of signs that touted it.  In the end there is just a kiosk with a description of what happened in the middle of a small park off a small parking lot in a sketchy part of town.  The Battle of Carthage was very early in the war (before Bull Run) and basically was an internal Missouri mini-civil war to decide which side Missouri would be on – they wound up joining with the South.


After our mini-tour we headed for the grocery store.  We had seen the WalMart on the way in but were hoping for anything else.  I had done a Google search and came up with only one other grocery store in Carthage (other than the two Mexican groceries) so we headed there.  It turned out to be a very bizarre discount grocery with a strange selection of merchandise, none of which we had ever heard of.  After a quick walk up one aisle and down another, we gave up, left, and headed to WalMart.  I felt bad about that because I had had to con a lady out of a quarter to get a shopping cart on the way in to the discount store. They all have chains and locks and you have to put in a quarter to get the cart and you get your quarter back when you relock it.  I didn’t have a quarter on me and I frankly didn’t realize that you got the quarter back, so I asked a lady who was about to relock her cart if I could take it.  She said OK, but then asked for a quarter.  I told her that I didn’t have one, which was why I wanted it before she locked it, and she said OK and gave me the cart and gave up on her quarter.  After all that, we didn’t even use it, so I left it for someone else.


It killed us, but, as the “only game in town” literally, we were forced to do grocery shopping at the WalMart SuperCenter.  It’s not like you can go to the next town and see what’s there,  because there is no next town within 30 miles.  I (Denise) kept mumbling under my breath as we turned down each aisle “I hate WalMart”.  We bought the minimum necessary and got out of there as fast as we could.  It really seems that WalMart is the only real grocery store in town and everyone in town shops there.  Presumably all of the other stores have been driven out of business.


We decided to buy fixings for dinner and stay in and watch one of the DVDs that we brought with us thinking we’d have lots and lots of leisure time – Ha!  We debated between “Dances with Wolves” (in memory of South Dakota); “Last of the Mohicans” (in memory of the frontier); “Little House on the Prairie – Season 1” (in memory of our trips to the Ingalls’ homesteads); and “Twister” (in memory of Kansas – which we drove through yesterday).  We chose “Twister”.  It was uncanny that, as we watched the movie, we kept saying – that’s exactly what the towns around here look like, and exactly cars and trucks they drive (mostly from the  60’s and 70’s), exactly what the fields of crops look like, exactly what the county and farm roads look like, and exactly what the sky looked like during those two storm days we experienced on the prairie.  “Twister”, homemade nachos, and beer – it doesn’t get any better than that….


- Dee & Josh

Day #34, Monday (Oct 8) - Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, then back to Missouri



Took a day trip (no camper) from the campground in Carthage, Mo to Independence, KS to see the site of the actual Little House on the Prairie (from the books; the TV show all took place in Walnut, Grove, MN).  The site is about 13 miles outside of Independence, on a country road off a country road.  They had a reproduction of a small settler’s log cabin, built based on the descriptions in the book, a small rural post office, and, of course, a one room school house.  Similar to what we have seen, but interesting to note one more point in the Ingalls family’s wanderings.


From there we decided to dead recon our way south into Oklahoma and then over into Arkansas and then back to the campground.  We left the Little House site at around 3:00 and headed South on the country road they were on.  We followed the road past many farms, through unnamed towns, and many unmarked turns, always trying to go south or east.  After getting onto a few roads that went for miles in the wrong direction or went to dirt for long sections, we eventually came out on a highway in northeastern Oklahoma.  After stopping for a pit stop, Denise plotted us a course through northeastern Oklahoma, into Arkansas and back up.  We headed that way, and when I had a chance to look at the map I was surprised to see what town we would be going through.  It turns out that Oklahoma is bigger than it looks, and we wound up stopping several times for gas before crossing into Arkansas at dusk.  Interestingly, we both came to the conclusion that people in Oklahoma are not happy friendly people.  We also passed through a large section of Cherokee Nation, and had the option to, but didn’t, take a toll highway in the middle of nowhere to avoid the “scenic highway” (read windy road through poor towns). 


Crossing into Arkansas there was a noticeable increase in development.  At about 8:00 p.m. we turned north on I-540/ US-71, which is in the process of being completely rebuilt, and passed through the booming town of Bentonville, AK.  For those of you who are scratching your heads saying “I have heard that name before but can’t place it.”  Bentonville, is the world headquarters for…. Wal-Mart!  Whether you are a Wal-Mart fan or not, you have to appreciate the capitalism that is going on in Bentonville.  They are building roads, hotels, malls, neighborhoods, etc., everywhere.  From the highway at night, the sky was lit as far as you could see in both directions. 


Ended up back at the campground at about 9:30 p.m., having stopped in Carthage for take-out Pizza Hut – it was that or Dominos!, and caught the end of the Yankees v Indians game to watch the Yankees get booted out of the running for the World Series.  Yeh


-          Josh & Dee


Days #35-38 - Week-at-a-glance



Day 35 – Tuesday (10/9):  Did nothing.  Washed the truck (very interesting bug and mud collection).  Cribbage (Josh 3 games, Denise 0 – cribbage board now put away for a while).  Read books instead.


Day 36 – Wednesday (10/10): Left Carthage early heading east.  Traveled on a 30-mile stretch of the old Route 66 – collapsing old service stations, houses, barns, and trailers.  Abandoned old cars and trucks in every yard.  You can definitely see the impact of the interstate and the 70’s oil crisis.  Entered the Missouri Ozarks and into Mansfield, MO.  Mansfield was the final home of Laura Ingalls Wilder and is a 200-acre farm that she and Almonzo moved to from De Smet, SD, to grow apples.  Mansfield is where she wrote the Little House books.  We saw both of the two houses on her farm.  They were very well preserved since her death in the 1950’s and had all of her original furnishings.   This concludes our unplanned tour of most of the Little House on the Prairie sites – missing only Pepin, Wisconsin (Little House in the Big Woods).


Continued deeper into the Ozarks and, as is our habit, stayed off of the highways and so pulled the camper across more white-knuckle roads over the crests of many small mountains and down into and up out of river valleys.  Very scenic, but tough driving.  Ended up at our planned campground in Cape Girardeau, MO at the eastern edge of Missouri along the Mississippi River.  We were trying to get to a point southeast of St. Louis so, after the wedding this weekend in St. Louis, we will have a shorter drive to Florida.  The campground turned out to be clean but basically a big parking lot behind a mall, so we decided that this was not a good spot to stay for more than a night. 


Day 37 – Thursday (10/11): Left the campground in Cape Girardeau after refilling one of our two propane tanks (this is the second tank we have used up – and now know how the auto flip valve works so the heat did not go off in the middle of the night).  Headed east across the “famous” cable span bridge over the Mississippi into Illinois.  After crossing the bridge it became farmland immediately.  We drove through an area of hilly fruit farms that reminded us of New England and then back into open corn and soybean fields.  Also, noted that the housing has gone back to stick-frame homes after the many states of trailers and prefabs that we have been passing.  Pulled into the campground in Whittington, Il at about 2:30 p.m. (Jim and Sandy – see, we can do it if we want to).  This campground is much more “campgroundy” with trees and all, so we’ll stay here and leave the trailer here overnight on Saturday when we go into St. Louis for the wedding. 


Went for a short walk around the area at dusk.  Since there is a small oil derrick right across the road from the campground, we got to see one up close.  Interesting to note that it appears to be run by a gas motor (rather than electric) and was occasionally misfiring – sounded like it needed a new spark plug.  Also, this one had a vent pipe nearby that was burning off some kind of flammable gas (methane?).  At first it looked like just an old oil barrel with a fire in it, but up close it was clear that it was continually burning.  We hadn’t seen that before.


Day 38 – Friday (10/12): Drove into downtown Benton, Il (the big town near here) and stopped at some of the antique stores in the square.  Benton has the classic town square with the county courthouse in the middle (like Carthage, MO) but in this case it is also the intersection of two major roads and just off the interstate so the square acts like a giant traffic circle with not enough capacity for the traffic volume it now handles.  It was tricky to get in and out of the parking spots along the square.  The antique stores were a little less expensive, but otherwise not much different from those in New England.


After Benton, we headed east to try to see some of Kentucky.  Just before crossing the Ohio River bridge into Kentucky, we pulled off to follow a historic marker sign and discovered the semi-ghosttown of Old Shawnee Town (population 300) along the bank of the river.  They had two old banks (closed), an old Texaco filling station (closed), an old mercantile store (boarded up), and four saloons (three open, one closed).  Turns out that Old Shawnee Town is the oldest town in Illinois, settled in 1793, and incorporated in 1810.  Lewis and Clarke stopped there to get salt on their way to St. Louis.  At some point (the sign didn’t say when) the town relocated to New Shawnee Town a few miles west to avoid the river floods.  There was a lively coal barge loading operation, but nothing else going on.  


We then crossed the bridge into Kentucky (actually we crossed it three times since Denise missed the picture of the welcome to Kentucky sign so we had to turn around, go back to Illinois, then turn around again and go back over the bridge to get the picture – this was especially fun because it was a high narrow bridge and I don’t like heights).  Once in Kentucky we found ourselves on a road with an “interesting” design feature.  In addition to being narrow, the rightmost foot and a half of the road surface was pitched down towards the ditch, in some places as much as 45˚.  Thank goodness we didn’t have the trailer, because it really felt like it was designed to pull a trailer wheel off the road.  This road was really making Denise nervous so we headed out of Kentucky quickly.  We did pass several very impressive coal conveyors, one of them over a mile long and up over three different roads.  Unfortunately, once we got onto a major road, the rest of our travel through Kentucky and southwestern Indiana was all strip malls and traffic.  Not the most scenic drive we have had.  Headed back into Illinois over the Wabash River (our first toll in a long time) while listening to the beginning of the Red Sox game on satellite radio.


We are now watching the Red Sox trounce the Indians in HD (over the air, as this park has no cable and no internet). 


From here, we head into St. Louis for Josh’s cousin Suzanne’s wedding (Saturday night and Sunday).  Then, our marathon drive to Orlando begins Monday a.m. (overnight in Georgia) and into Tuesday.  Then a few days with the grandkids.  Then a marathon drive north with maybe a stopover in Maryland (Susan).  So this may be our last e-mail (or at least they’ll probably be less frequent).


-Josh and Dee



Days 39-49: Home sweet home



After 49 days, 10,627.2 miles, and 1,172.9 gallons of gasoline, we are back in Hollis safe and sound. 


In the last 10 days we….

  • -          Went inside the base of the St. Louis arch, but did not go up to the top because they were sold out for the day (gee bummer)

  • -          Went on a short riverboat tour of the St. Louis shoreline

  • -          Went to an orthodox Jewish wedding which was quite an experience for Denise

  • -          Spent some time with the Robey side of the family who we don’t get to see very often

  • -          Drove 900 miles in two days from Whittington, Il to Orlando, FL

  • -          Were surprised by the fact that just about all of the hotels in Tifton, GA (the middle of no where) were booked on a Monday night and wound up staying in the worst Ramada hotel in North America – got the last non-smoking room in the hotel, had to park the camper on the lawn behind the hotel because all of the spots were taken, Denise slept in her clothes because it didn’t feel clean, left the fan on in the bathroom all night to get rid of the smell, really was a dump

  • -          Set up the camper in a KOA on Alligator Rd. off of Seven Dwarfs Lane (welcome to Orlando)

  • -          Confirmed with Mike’s dad (a much more serious RV’er) that all campgrounds have train tracks nearby

  • -          Spent three days with the kids at a resort complex that had more and better swimming pools than the whole state of New Hampshire (really - water slides, waterfalls, a lazy river, zero depth entries, just unbelievable pools)

  • -          Baked in the ridiculously hot Florida sun.  90+ every day. Got a sunburn in late October.

  • -          Visited Universal Studios Islands of Adventure Park – went on every water ride, there were basically no lines, had a great time with the kids

  • -          Went to the Arabian Knights indoor horse riding production that was quite impressive

  • -          Dealt with our one and only camper toilet back-up (due to low water pressure)

  • -          Watched the Red Sox nearly loose the ALCS

  • -          Visited Lucille’s new house and saw Joe, Jennifer, Hailey and Kira, and a few small alligators – the kids all got along great even though the cousins had not seen each other in two years

  • -          Wondered what the point of a gated community is if the alligators are on the inside of the gate

  • -          Drove from Orlando to Maryland in a day and a half

  • -          Drove past “South of the Border” which is clearly the east coast’s attempt at Wall Drug, but with only half as many billboards

  • -          Listened to the Red Sox win the ALCS on the radio

  • -          Had dinner with Susan, Barry, and Emily, saw Emily’s school, and then got back on the road to the camp ground

  • -          Saw Breezewood, the Las Vegas of  Pennsylvania neon truck stops

  • -          Left the southern PA campground in the evening and drove till 1:30 AM to get home while avoiding NY traffic

  • -          Hopefully freaked out our new neighbors by coming down the hill with the camper at 1:30 in the morning (they moved in while we were away and probably assumed we were the quietest people in the world)

  • -          Slept at home for the first time in seven weeks and only the fourth night since the beginning of August

We had a great time and hope you all enjoyed sharing this with us via email,

Josh and Denise

P.S. GO SOX!!!


Last updated: 1/7/2008