Friday, July 25, 2014

July 25 - Heading North for a Weekend in Door County

It's been more than a dozen years since we've been in Wisconsin's Famous Door County. This peninsula poking into Lake Michigan gives Wisconsin it's signature shape and is a very popular tourist destination during the summer. (During the Winter... not so much.) After a little prodding from my brother Jerry we thought we'd brave the crowds and add this experience to our summer of 2014 adventures. 

Check out http://doorcounty.com/ for more.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

July 23 - Update on this year's visit to the Midwest

We arrived in the Beaver Dam Wisconsin area on Friday, July 11. High levels of activity usually accompany fresh arrivals and this year has not been an exception. Family, friends, setting up our little "apartment" at the farm, a class reunion (mine... doesn't seem like 45 years!), and many fix-it jobs and mini-projects have kept me away from the keyboard and the many delayed daily posts to the blog from our recent trek through some of the best parts of the USA. They will be done, but it's going to take a little more time.

In truth, I'm re-thinking the blog, it's purpose, and it's future. During our recent 4 week trip with the truck and camper I found the blog to be a burden. Why? Primarily the lack of time and the alternative uses of the time I did have. Traveling with the bushouse we would usually match a day of exploring with a day of "not-exploring" or rest, which gave us time to process photos and write. But we found traveling with the truck and camper is more intensive. We get going earlier in the day, stay out later, and find we're moving almost every day... a pace we found agreeable but a pace that left little time at the end of the day. And I'd rather spend that time hashing over the day and planning the next day with my partner instead of trying to hammer out a post.

I've been writing The RV Sabbatical Journal for going on 8 years now. The reasons I write are three-fold:  to document our travels, to make it possible for family and friends to see what we're up to, and to occasionally get creative... to stretch my writing muscle... and write something fun. Because I get restless and weary after a time of doing things the same way, I'm going to make a couple changes.  I want the RVSJ to become more "travelogue"... the where, when, and what of our travels... a quick and easy record primarily for us. It will only be updated when we're traveling. My intention is that it be "just the facts" and, thus, easy and quick to write but probably not all that interesting to anyone else.. I hope this will satisfy the first reason.

I will also be a little more active with Facebook and Twitter to take care of the second reason: keeping family and friends updated. I've been a late adopter of social media... was fairly critical of it at first... but have come to see some value in it. These updates are quick and require little effort... and I can reach a much larger audience.

And to address the third reason I write, I'm hoping to focus more on my creative side. To be done mostly while we're "sitting" -- whether at our home base in Sutherlin, during our visit to the Midwest in the summer, or if we sit someplace south in the Winter -- I want to stretch myself... fiction, non-fiction, essays, humor, human interest... it's all on the table. When something is ready I'll post it to a separate blog that will contain all this sort of thing.

In the next few weeks we have a couple camping excursions planned... a short one to Door County here in Wisconsin, and another longer one to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It's been a while since we've been in Yooper-land and we can't wait to get back.

Friday, July 11, 2014

July 11 - Lake City MN to Beaver Dam WI

Overnight and early morning rain showers herded us into Doug and Kay's home for morning coffee. During a lull in the precipitation we stowed our gear, dropped the top, and hit the road.

There's always an excitement, driven by familiarity and memories, as one nears "home"... even if you have multiple "homes". I've written it before... but there's no feeling like "coming home", unless it's feeling like "it's time to go." We nomads are such complicated and hard to please people.

We'll be here for a couple months. During that time there won't be many updates to this Journal... which is primarily a travel journal. We'll be hitting the road back to the PNW by the end of September.

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Miles Today: 212 (odo 9954)
Location: "The Farm" near Beaver Dam
Weather: Showers early (near the Mississippi), lighter and abating as we moved east.


When we see this... we know we're close to our Midwest Home.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

July 10 - Burnsville MN to Lake City MN... and more Friends

Along the Mississippi. A week ago this wayside park
was completely under water.
Another short drive today, so no one was in a rush to hurry along our departure. Thanks Sue and Jim for a very enjoyable time. We try to stop here whenever we're through the area and will continue to do so. It' almost become another of our "homes away from the bushouse."

A simple drive over to the Mississippi River. Along our way we found a large series of concrete structures scattered throughout an overgrown field in rural Dakota County. Later investigation revealed that these are the immovable remnants of the Gopher Ordinance Works about which you can read more here. Briefly, it was a gunpowder plant built by the government during WWII. It only operated for a few years before being abandoned and dismantled.

Wonder what future archaeologists will think when they find these in the far distant future?

Another set of good friends we try to see whenever through this area are fellow nomadic travelers Doug and Kay. I've written before about them and how we like getting together and talking over plans for the future, ideal rigs for the nomadic life, and alternate ways of traveling and seeing the world. These two have lived on a sailboat for 5 years before their RV life and are far more experienced and varied in their modes of travel than we are. And every time we get together we come away with new ideas to chew on for the future. Here too, we kept the campfire embers burning long into the evening. With a bit of luck we'll probably see them again this winter somewhere in the Southwest. Thanks Doug and Kay for another enjoyable time.

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Miles Today: 64 (odo 9742)
Location: Lake City, MN on Lake Pepin/ Mississippi River
Weather: Good weather
Camp: at Doug and Kay's place in Lake City.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

July 8 / 9 - Hutchinson MN to visit with friends in Burnsville MN

A short drive today from Hutchinson to Burnsville... so we took it slow this morning. Along the way we came across Bongards Creameries and just had to stop. The Midwest used to be loaded with small dairies and cheese factories during the early 20th century. Most were put out of business by larger competitors, but some, like Bongards, grew, improved efficiency and productivity, and were able to keep a critical mass of customers. There's nothin' like fresh cheddar cheese curds direct from the source.

Our route today necessarily takes us across the Minnesota River. We crossed at Chaska where just a few days earlier it was closed due to high water. The extraordinarily wet Spring kept the old Minnesota high well beyond the normal snowmelt runoff. The Mississippi, which receives the Minnesota, is also much higher than normal.

Slow progress today... even for us. But we did make it to our good friends Sue and Jim's house by early afternoon. It was good to see them. The rest of the day was spent getting caught up, enjoying a very "happy hour" in their attached screen porch, and dinner.

The following day, the 9th, Jim and Sue planned an outing to downtowns Minneapolis and St. Paul on the Twin Cities Metro light rail system. We picked it up at the Mall of America and rode to Minneapolis.

We saw the hole in the ground where the new Vikings stadium is going to be built. The news the past few days around here is that they're assembling a huge crane that will be used to lift massive portions of the new facility into place during the construction process.


Here are a few facts and figures about it... the 3rd largest crawler crane in the world: it takes 70 semi-truck loads to move it around, 11 days to put it all together on-site; stands more than 400 feet high; can lift 1250 metric tons; the counter-weight alone weighs over a million pounds. It'll be onsite for 15 months.

From there we rode a new section of the light rail system over to downtown St. Paul and to the "end of the line" at Union Depot.  One of America's great rail stations from the early 20th century, Union Depot has more than 250,000 sq. feet on 33 acres right alongside the Mississippi River in downtown St. Paul. A recent extensive renovation project has revived this historic structure for use as a multi-purpose event space in addition to it's role as a transportation hub. Amtrak has recently moved it's St. Paul stop back to Union Depot.



Next on the agenda was lunch. I guess this country boy was overwhelmed by the big city... I didn't record the name of the restaurant. I remember it being a reincarnation of an old steakhouse institution in St. Paul... a "mens club" atmosphere with a big bar and lots of dark wood. You could easily imagine the local big shots having their three martini lunches amid a haze of cigar smoke. But alas, no steaks or martinis today, and no cigar smoke either. We did however enjoy our larger-than-life entrees and the company we were with made for a very agreeable afternoon.

Back in Burnsville we passed the rest of the day on the screenporch and even had a campfire... just like the old days when we lived right next door. There's no point in messing up a formula that works. Thank you so much Jim and Sue.

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Miles Today: 72 (odo 9678)
Location: Burnsville, MN
Weather: Sunny and cooler
Camp: Stayed with friends Jim and Sue

Monday, July 7, 2014

July 7 - Granite Falls MN to Hutchinson MN

First off, yesterdays post failed to mention the pests we encountered at the Upper Sioux Agency State Park. Gnats and then, as the sun set, mosquitoes... enough to warrant an honorable mention in the blog. Really couldn't sit outside much. Of course, with the wet spring and summer this year, pests are to be expected.

Not much post-able activity today. Found a tankful of cheap gas (3.42/gal), and once we made Hutchinson we had an enjoyable lunner at the Main Street Sports Pub. A craft beer was calling. And then a thunderstorm rolled through town. The weather service was talking about a potential for high winds so we watched this wonder of nature from the comfort of the truck cab in a clearing well away from trees. The safety director was pleased.

Hutchinson is another of those great smaller Midwest towns. Lots of parks (we're camping at one) and bike trails galore running along the river that flows through the center of town. The Upper Midwest clearly has it's shit together when it comes to attractive small towns.

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Miles Today: 80 (odo 9678)
Location: Hutchinson, MN
Weather: Sunny but some T-storms produced by front passage
Camp: Masonic Park (a Hutchinson City Park) $15

Sunday, July 6, 2014

July 6 - Watertown SD to Granite Falls MN

Explored the fine western Minnesota town of Dawson. Our good friend Jim from Burnsville lived here a few years ago as a young school teacher. Couldn't pass an opportunity to check it out. We'll be stopping and Jim and Sue's in a few days.

For whatever reason... heritage or tough winters or social expectations or ??... most small towns in the Midwest are very neat and clean, well maintained and cared for, exude a sense of civic pride, and the residents seem happy. In comparison, our observation is that many (not all, but many) towns of similar size, particularly in the south and southwest are little more than trashy dumps. What could be the reason for this?

Dawson is certainly a pleasant inviting place. People keep their property neatly trimmed and picked up; homes are painted and in good repair; fresh flowers in hanging baskets from every street light standard downtown; flags flying all around town; business activity seems vibrant; a large well-used city park. We were impressed.

Short drive today as we stopped along the Minnesota River just a little south of Granite Falls. State Parks are getting expensive all around the country, and Minnesota is no exception. Without an annual state parks pass vagabonds like us end up paying additionally for a day-at-a-time pass, which here, drove our price up to $29 for the night.

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Miles Today: 109 (odo 9525)
Location: N44.729, W95.435
Elevation: 890
Weather: Warm (90s) and sunny
Camp: Upper Sioux Agency State Park (MN) site 14, $29 (ouch) including vehicle permit.

Main street in Dawson

Dawson MN Park

Saturday, July 5, 2014

July 5 - Faith to Watertown SD; and an Amazing Find

US-212 through central South Dakota reminds me of driving a parkway, ala the Natchez Trace... or the Blue Ridge Parkway. Slower travel, little traffic, so peaceful... it's a very agreeable way to go. There's just not a lot of stuff to look at.

As we moved we found an old-fashioned radio station on the truck radio. KSJB 600 out of Jamestown ND. Classic country music... good driving music. Some younger readers may not know that it's possible to get free radio right off the airways on their vehicle radio, just as many people apparently don't know that free broadcast HD TV is available on your home TV as long as you've got the proper antenna pulling in the signal and you're close enough to the transmitter. This isn't anything new. It was the only way to get TV back in my childhood days during the 50s and 60s.

As we neared Watertown SD we decided to find a motel. Since leaving the PNW, this is the first time we felt a need to do so. Might have been the siren call of the endless hot water shower that beckoned. When we began this mode of travel we agreed that using motels at times would be an acceptable option. It's a not so bad trade-off in order to travel very light as we do.

Upon checking into the motel we asked the desk clerk about reasonably priced "good food" restaurants in the area, and were surprised that her first choice was the HyVee grocery store right next door. "No, you don't understand... we're looking for a restaurant... a place to sit, order, perhaps have an adult beverage, and eat in a pleasant atmosphere." And she again said HyVee, suggesting we give it a try. "You'll be surprised." she said. See this link for more.

It was amazing. I've never seen anything like it before. Sure, many upscale grocery stores have an amazing deli, offer a large selection of prepared foods, and may even have a little corner with some tables where you can sit and eat in the store. But this concept takes it much further. They call it the Market Cafe and it's a separate seating area complete with wait-staff, a menu, a bar with a proper selection of adult beverages, and all nicely set in a quiet pleasant setting. You can order off the menu and you'll be served as you would in most full service restaurants. Or, alternately, you can go out and get your own mix of food from one of the most amazing deli counters I've ever seen. There was an Italian section, a Chinese section, Sushi, Mexican, American, and more. The extensive salad bar was our first choice, but I did add a hunk of roast beef to keep my protein level up.

As I thought about it later, this phenomenon is probably a natural evolution from the deli departments of good grocery stores. They're already in the food business, have been doing more and more prepared foods, and can evolve to a full service restaurant quicker and with less new investment and personnel than a new start-up. Expect to see more of this in the future.

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Miles Today: 272 (odo 9416)
Elevation: 1700
Location: Watertown SD
Weather: Nice... sunny
Camp: The Econolodge

South Dakota humor.

... and more humor.

Our friendly and energetic server at Hy-Vee Market Cafe.

Nice place!

Friday, July 4, 2014

July 4 - Ashland MT (Red Shale CG) to Faith SD

Miles and miles of sweet yellow clover, as far as we could see across the plains, especially in South Dakota. In bloom, it's unmistakable both in sight and smell.

Route today was US-212 all the way. Touched three states today.

Breakfast at the Cashway Diner in Broadus MT. Found out that Eunice just died a week ago. She was the matriarch of the diner. Broadus is a v. friendly little town, smiles and greetings from many we met. We got a personal invitation to stay an extra day and join in the Independence Day celebration.

Stopped at the Ben Ash Memorial atop a knoll along 212. Ben is honored with this memorial park as the first European to glimpse the Black Hills in the 1870s. This is a dubious claim at best, and there's very little information about this whole claim on the internet. It was a decent place to stop for a snack lunch regardless.

Got to Faith SD early afternoon and thought we'd stop at their city park where they offer camping for just $10. Somewhat unsure of where everyone is. It's the 4th of July, this is a city park complete with picnic tables, trees (shade), and more. And there wasn't a soul there. Not one. Later in the afternoon another camper showed up, and then one car full of folks who had a small picnic. Other than that, not another human sighting. Hmmm. Might'a been something good on TV?

There were some fireworks at a small lake a couple miles to the south but some private citizen/pyromanic provided a much closer and longer lasting celebration. Like most fireworks shows it becomes irritating after the first hour. This guy finally ran out of either matches or money, and we were able to get a good nights sleep.

One more notable: Faith is the town near where the T-Rex "Sue" was found. Now on permanent display at the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History, "Sue" is the largest, most complete, and best preserved T-rex ever found. The story of her finding is very cool.

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Miles today: 235 (odo 9147)
Elevation: 2560 ft
Location: N45.018, W102.038
Camp: Faith City Park ($10) incl. free fireworks show
Weather: Hot, sunny, upper 80s

This was our view much of the day.
Note the sweet yellow clover as far as one can see.

Bet the city council meetings are well attended.

Our camp at the city park. We're the only ones around.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

July 3 - Lazy but Productive Day at Red Shale CG

So quiet... so agreeable. And with a good strong 4G internet signal... and... and... did I mention it's free? We did decide to stay an extra day and get some work done. I'm way behind on posts. (actually didn't publish the post for this day until September!!)

The campground and the surrounding area is plumb-full of a waist-high plant with small yellow blooms of some kind. It also has a strong sweet scent. Dar did some research and found it's called Yellow Sweet Clover.  Non-native, its used as a cover and forage crop. But it must be used carefully. If allowed to mold it becomes toxic to animals that might be feeding on it. You see, it contains coumarin, which converts to dicoumarol, a powerful anti-coagulant toxin.

A pleasant day.

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no miles today; same camp as last night.
Weather: warm, sunny, light wind. high near 90.


Wednesday, July 2, 2014

July 2 - Burgess Junction WY to Ashland MT

Cold this morning. So cold that I could scratch the date in the windshield of the truck. We've also had a big mule deer hanging out near camp last night. It was still here this morning and Dar caught a shot of him having breakfast.

What goes up inevitably must come back down again... at least here on Earth. Today we too drop down a tad... from our almost 8000 ft perch last night to a more pedestrian 3200 ft. tonight. Most of that drop occurred in the first hour after leaving Burgess Junction as we descended the east side of the Bighorns.

Agreeable drive down the hill to Dayton, Ranchester, then a small chunk of I-90 to x16, where we picked up WY-338/339 north, into Montana again, so we could pick up US-212. We stopped along the way at the Tongue River Reservoir State Park and had a picnic lunch.

At US-212 we nosed east through Lame Deer and Ashland. For the record: there's a community college in the Native American community of Lame Deer. The name of the institution of higher education is Chief Dull Knife College. We thought this interesting.

My objective was to find the campground I believe we stopped at during a trip west in 1974. I know it was along 212 and it was on the north side of the road. Those two features limit the number of candidates... and I truly think we found it when we stopped at Red Shale CG (NFS). Dar's a little more skeptical of my claim. But despite having no recollection of the facilities themselves (and it is a bit primitive), I'll continue to claim "this is the place". Arrived early afternoon and there was no one in the campground at all. By evening a handful of others showed up.

Scrounged up enough downed wood for a good campfire and decided to stay two nights.

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Miles Today: 147 (odo 8912)
Elevation: 3200
Location: N45.571, W106.146
Camp: Red Shale CG NFS near Ashland MT (free)
Weather: Sunny and warm (80s)

Munching breakfast.

US-14 in the Bighorns

Usually they wait till we have the bushouse... and
always on a narrow road with no shoulders.

Our free camp for two nights.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

July 1 - Bighorn Canyon NRA to Burgess Junction WY

Early (8:30a) departure from Horseshoe Bend CG in Bighorn Canyon. Stopped in Lovell for a few needed supplies and then headed east on 14A. This route has the steepest grades (10% and more in spots) going up and it certainly gave our naturally aspirated gasser Ford a good workout. But what a dramatic climb and view. Unfortunately it was very hazy today, not sure why, which limited how far we could see toward the horizon. Besides the haze, general weather condition was mostly sunny.

We took it slow, stopping various places along the way. Evaluating our options for a camp tonight, we had a choice of a few good NFS campgrounds up here in the mountains but things thinned out as we descended toward Sheridan and beyond. So we knocked off early and took a site in North Tongue CG NFS near Burgess Junction.

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Miles today: 70 (odo 8766)
Elevation: 7893
Location: N44.780, W107.535
Camp: North Tongue CG NFS; $7.50 w/pass