Bill and Kit’s 2015 Excellent Adventure, Journal #27

Bill and Kit's Woody and Airstream-2015

50th Logo

No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.

Lin Yutang

 

Friday, June 12, 2015:  You may have surmised by this issues quote that we expect to be home at the conclusion of this journal…..time will tell!?!?

Pulled stakes and headed out from Lebanon Hills Regional Park in Apple Valley, Minnesota.  However, before leaving we took one last look at the turtle nest and were pleased to see that everything was intact.  It occurred to me that the turtle is a great metaphor for our way of life on the road…..we both plod along at our own rate and carry our shelter with us wherever we go.  Maybe we should have called our annual treks the Bill and Kit Turtle Expedition!

It is mid-morning, the sky is bright blue and the temperatures are rising…..it appears to be another great day to be on the road.

2015-06-14a, Photo #6

However, very soon we were thrust back into the chaos and confusion of big city traffic as we skirt the west side of the twin cities and make our way toward the Minnesota town of Maple Grove, just 36 miles to the north.  Why move the rig for only 36 miles, and why north?  Well, as we have come to expect as the camping season ramps up, the nicer campgrounds are booked solid for Fridays and Saturdays.  So since we had to pull out anyway, and since Kit still had some relatives to visit, we relocated to another local campground closer to them.

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This place is part of the KOA chain and the very same campground we stayed at in 2008, during the Bill and Kit’s GOFETCHIT Trip.  Since our original Arctic Fox trailer was purchased from a dealer a few miles away we utilized this park to spend a few days checking out all the systems before dragging the camper back to Maine.  To our delight, the owners of Northwest Minneapolis KOA as well as the facilities are as nice and as accommodating as ever!

Our neighbors were very nice as well!  A three generation family down from Perham, Minnesota for a weekend graduation, they were a delight to have next door.

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Greg works for a food service company and kindly hooked us up with some freebies….an industrial sized bag of Kettle Chips!  Thanks Greg, but you shouldn’t have.  No, I really mean it, you really shouldn’t have…..because we devoured that entire bag in a scant two days…..yikes!

In the afternoon, we paid a visit to Kit’s cousin Billy and his wife Sharon who reside nearby in Blaine, Minnesota.

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After a few hours of getting reacquainted, we drove into town for an early dinner at one of their favorite restaurants, Pho 79.

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Notice the fella inside through the front door…..kinda looks like me, however he appears to be a lot shorter and a whole lot older!

After a tasty but somewhat eclectic meal of Vietnamese food, we returned to their home for more visiting.  Upon saying our goodbyes, Sharon presented us with a loaf of zucchini bread which we devoured most of that evening before turning in for the night,  Thanks folks for a great visit!

 

Saturday, June 13, 2015-Maple Grove, Minnesota:  This morning we relaxed about camp and enjoyed a few strolls in the nearby woods.

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The owners have done a great job in laying out this campground.  We are in the full hook-up section, which by necessity has fairly tightly spaced sites.  However their dry camping area is spread about their wooded acreage and features lots of privacy.  Being totally self-contained, if Kit and I were to stay here again, we would opt for the more private wooded sites.

During the afternoon, we made our way south in order to visit Kit’s 94 year old aunt Vi who lives in a nice assisted living home in Brooklyn Park.  Were pleased to find her two sons, Mark and David there as well.  Following an enjoyable reunion we all reconvened at the local Olive Garden restaurant for an early dinner where David treated us to a great meal.

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After lingering over coffee for an hour or so, Kit and I took our leave and drove back to the campground for the evening.  Thanks for the meal and company, Dave!

 

Sunday, June 14, 2015:  Following a leisurely breakfast and another walk around the campground, Kit and I got underway shortly before the noon hour and pointed our rig toward the east.  Piecing together a number of state roads before settling on US-2, we crossed the Wisconsin border at 1510 and continued to roll easterly.

Three hours later and getting weary Kit noticed a municipal campground in the little town of Ashland, Wisconsin which was right on the shore of Lake Superior.

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Being a Sunday, there were plenty of quality sites available at this late hour.  We chose one of the more isolated ones a row back from the water that was long enough to allow us to keep truck and trailer connected.

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The sites were large and being a small town owned campground the price was great!

After dinner, Kit and I walked the lakefront as the sun was setting in the west and the Sunday afternoon boaters were headed for the nearby town owned marina.

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Another quality camping facility owned and managed by the host town…..there seem to be more and more of these popping up, much to the chagrin of the high dollar and cramped RV Resorts.  We certainly hope this marriage of town owned property and camping recreation will develop into a nationwide trend!

 

Monday, June 15, 2015:  On the road at 1045 under sunny skies and a temperature of 75 degrees.  Hopping back on US-2 heading east once again, we crossed into the state of Michigan within the hour.

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All along the roadside wildflowers were in bloom, and in one 20 mile swath there was a burst of colorful Lupines bordering the north edge of the highway and virtually none on the south side!?!?

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These colorful plants are actually members of the Legume Family and the seeds are edible…..generally superior to the more commercially grown Soybean.  Also called Bluebonnets, The traditional blue Lupine can also exhibit a rainbow of other colors.

2015-06-21, Photo #9a

After a roadside break and some lunch near the field of Lupines, Kit and I were soon rolling along once again.

We often notice odd things as we bounce about the US, and today was no exception.  Coming upon a rig that was traveling much slower than us, which is pretty dang slow, we eased out across the yellow dotted line and accelerated to pass.  Coming alongside I noticed it was a pickup truck sporting a green canoe and towing a small stock trailer containing a Holstein cow.  Kit and I entertained ourselves for the next hour by speculating what that was all about!

At 1220, we crossed the Central Time Zone and a few hours later pulled into a convenient Wal*mart parking lot in Marquette, Michigan.  We needed to resupply, and I wanted to inquire about their overnight camping policy.

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Finding the customer service manager, she welcomed us to stay the night and mentioned that we would certainly have company as their store was open 24 hours, featured security patrols and was convenient to a major east/west highway.  In addition, the McDonalds inside the store featured a robust public WiFi which we used that evening to catch up on e-mail correspondence before heading off to bed.

 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015:  Woke early as the sun streamed through the skylight above our bed.  As often happens, it took a minute for me to remember where we were.  Looking out the window I noticed the stark surroundings of a Wal*Mart parking lot and a few other traveling RV’rs scattered about.

Camping in a parking lot, or in a truck stop, or at a highway rest area, isn’t the most scenic…..but the price is sure right!  No need to pay thirty dollars for a quick overnight stay.  I wonder why someone hasn’t thought to establish a chain of low cost overnight parking lots.  These could be spaced a day’s drive away, have a system for self-pay and possibly feature an electrical connection…..sounds like a great business opportunity considering the growth of RV’ing and the trend toward municipalities restricting camping in commercial parking lots such as Wal*Mart’s.  Anyone want to invest?

As Kit continued to slumber, I decided to walk into the store and fetch a couple of breakfast sandwiches and two coffees.  Near the entrance, I noticed a large display of Trenary Cinnamon Toast, so keeping with my tradition of sampling regional foods, I purchased a bag.

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Trenary Toast, named for the area in the U.P. of Michigan it originated, is Finnish toast with a hard dry texture and infused with cinnamon sugar…..it was a bit hard but had a nice flavor.  Apparently Ternary Toast is supposed to be dunked in one’s morning coffee but we just nuked it for a few seconds and it became softer and more flavorful, and it paired nicely with the McDonalds coffee!

At 0934 Kit and I (yep, she’s awake) rolled out of the parking lot weaving our way around the several other RV’rs that had sought refuge for the evening.  Easing back on US-2 we continued east as we discussed where to head next.

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Kit mentioned she would like a return visit to Sault Saint Marie, Michigan so that became today’s destination.  Moving over to MI-28 we traveled east through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and through the picturesque town of Munising before finding I-75.  We jumped on the interstate heading north and in a few miles came to the exit for the town of Sault Saint Marie.  Checking the All Stay’s App, Kit discovered yet another municipal campground where we headed and selected a nice riverside camp spot.

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Our best views are out the port side of the camper, so this spot proved great for watching the river activity while enjoying a meal!

Aune-Osborne is a great town owned and managed campground on the famed Saint Mary’s River and a perfect headquarters for our multiday stay.  After a nice meal and some visiting with our new neighbors, it was off to bed for us.

 

Wednesday, June 17 and Thursday, June 18, 2015-Sault Saint Marie, Michigan:  So what’s the attraction here?  Well in addition to this being a nice little town of 14, 000 folks that also host the famed Soo Locks Complex, there are many of these leviathans steaming past!

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And all visible from your campsite!  These things are so massive and powerful that they literally make the ground shake as the lumber by.  Why so much freighter activity?  Well, the Saint Mary’s River drains Lake Superior into the lower in elevation Lake Huron by a system of locks.

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The Soo Locks allow passage of approximately 10,000 ships a year.  And that’s only during part of the year as ice shuts down shipping for about three months!  The US side is managed by the US Army Corps of Engineers and provides free transit to any and all watercraft.

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After exploring the visitor’s center, Kit and I headed to the observation deck where we watched a few 1,000 foot lake freighters pass through the very narrow locks.  We then walked about town and stopped in a few shops before grabbing lunch at the locally popular Karl’s restaurant and winery.

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I ordered a Panini and Kit enjoyed the specialty pizza.

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And for desert we shared a slice of chocolate chip cheesecake.

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We had to walk around the town some more to work off that incredible meal; Kit and I eventually made our way back to the trailer.  As Kit read, I walked to the large grass field next to the campground to fly kites.  As the sun set, we turned in for the evening listening to the periodic passing of the lake freighters outside our window.

2015-06-21, Photo #16d

 

Friday, June 19, 2015:  Leaving Sault Saint Marie, Michigan at 1020, Kit and I decided to head into Canada so we made our way across the Saint Mary’s river toward Sault Saint Marie, Ontario.

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After clearing customs, we merged onto King’s Highway 17, also known as The Trans Canadian Highway, and pointed the rig east driving through the mostly rural area of Southern Ontario province.

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During today’s travel, we passed nearby the villages of Echo Bay, Pumpkin Point, Blind River, and Seldom Seen…..all of which had signs announcing their existence and all boosting populations of less than 600 folks.  Each of these towns begged for exploration, but alas we must soldier on…..maybe next trip through!

Nearing noontime, we came to a roadside Tim Horton’s and decided to stop for lunch and a break.  Parking was tight, and being next-door to a gas station, vehicles were coming and going which made it rather difficult to maneuver into a suitable parking spot.  So I just did what any self-respecting RV’r would do, I backed into an end spot and let the camper hang out over the ditch…..problem solved!

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At 1830 hours, Kit located a promising looking camping opportunity so we exited the highway and made our way toward Champlain Provincial Park outside the town of Mattawa, Ontario.

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And set up the rig on a very nice, but somewhat tight camp spot for the evening.

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After a quick meal, we were done for the day so turned in fairly early, reading until we nodded off at around 2100.

 

Saturday, June 20, 2015:  Woke to a beautiful morning in southern Canada.  Following a hearty breakfast, Kit and I decided to walk about and explore this interesting Provincial Park.  The campground is located on Moore Lake which is fed by The Champlain River.

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And features many trails that lead to secluded beaches for fishing or paddling.

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Returning to the camper, we departed at 1040 and slowly wound our way through the narrow roads with low hanging tree branches bouncing off the trailer.  As we neared the main park road, a fellow camper motioned for us to stop and pointed to the roof of the trailer where a rather large tree branch was riding along.  Concerned that I had once again dinged our roof, I quickly scaled the rear ladder and gingerly lifted the branch off the surface of the roof.  The only damage was a bent TV antenna which will wait until our return home for repair.  I should not be taking a rig of this size in many of the places I do, but then we would really miss some of the most beautiful places to camp!  There are times I really miss our tent camping days…..Kit not so much!

Back on the Trans Canadian Highway we eventually came upon Provincial Highway 416 SUD which we took toward the south and the US Border.  Crossing a bridge over The Saint Lawrence River at 1530 Kit and I drove toward the town of Ogdensburg, New York.

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At the border, the agent asked the customary questions and after some cheerful banter, waived us through.  It seems the border patrol agents we have come into contact during this year trip are a lot more pleasant than in the past…..still professional and firm, but not as surly as they were just a few years ago.

While stopping to fill our nearly depleted fuel tanks with inexpensive American diesel, we used the iPhone App All Stays to locate our next camping opportunity. Noticing there was a New York State Park a few miles to the east on highway NY-37 and being a normally busy Saturday, we called ahead to verify they had room for us.  They did so we pulled into Coles Creek State Park and located a nice camp spot on the Saint Lawrence River.

2015-06-21, Photo #36

There were a number of weekenders in the park, but the place is so large and the individual campsites are roomy that it didn’t seem very crowded.

After a nice meal, we sipped an evening cocktail while watching the sun set over the stormy Saint Lawrence River with the shoreline of Morrisburg, Ontario in the distance.

2015-06-21, Photo #38c

 

Sunday, June 22, 2015-Coles Creek State Park, New York:  Woke to a brilliant sunshiny morning and Kit declared a down day for some rest and relaxation.  We spent the day walking about the park, visiting with neighbors, reading and basically goofing off.

2015-06-21, Photo #36b

The 774 mile Saint Lawrence River connects the great Lakes with the Atlantic Ocean by way of the Saint Lawrence Seaway.  This river highway provides ocean going freighters access to American and Canadian ports well inland.

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As busy as the Saint Mary’s River was up in Sault Saint Marie, there were just a half dozen or so freighters that passed by the campground during our stay, this may have been a result of being a weekend.

After a very relaxing day, Kit and I prepared for tomorrows departure and turned in fairly early.

 

Monday, June 22, 2015:  Leaving Coles Creek State Park at 1030 under bright blue skies with large puffy clouds.  We hopped back on NY-37 and enjoyed the drive through a largely rural area of upstate New York.

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A few hours later, we merged onto US-11 which bisected a number of small towns as the highway led us easterly.  Near the village of Chateaugay, I started noticing an unusual high number of local and state police patrol cars.  It was then that Kit informed me we were a few miles north of the Clinton Correctional Facility and that the two convicts that had escaped were still on the loose.  I fully expected to be pulled over so the officers could look in our camper, but they paid us no attention at all.  We did, however ensure the trucks doors were locked!

At 1245 we pulled into the quaint little town of Rouses Point, an area that we’ve explored in the past.

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And ten minutes later we crossed the bridge over Lake Champlain and entered the state of Vermont.

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Kit and I wound our way through the countryside until we came to I-89 which took us south past the city of Burlington and on to our ultimate destination in central Vermont.  Pulling into the only campground in the area, we set up on a nice site for a few days visit.

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Kit and I, as well as our children, used to live in this area of Vermont so have a number of friends that we want to try and see, so the rest of the day was spent sending “surprise, we’re in town” e-mails to folks to see if we could connect.

 

Tuesday, June 23 through Wednesday, June 24, 2014-Graniteville, Vermont:   Late last night, we received a reply form one of the people Kit and I really wanted to see.  Since he was available for breakfast, we met Monk at the regional hotspot of Soup and Greens in beautiful downtown Barre.

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And we were delighted to see that his niece Lauren was in town and was able to join us!  As you may remember, Monk had just lost his wife of 55 years just a few weeks earlier.  As our sons father-in-law, we truly wanted to deliver our personal condolences and spend time visiting with him.  Lauren, an educator from Phoenix, Arizona and on summer break, had stayed on after the memorial service to help Monk out.

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We had a great time visiting and reminiscing about Betty and hearing fascinating stories from their many years together.  It so happens that Soup and Greens was their favorite local restaurant and they had breakfast there almost every morning after they retired.

Later, Kit and I took the opportunity to drive through the beautiful Vermont countryside to the town of Randolph Center.

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Where the Vermont Veterans Cemetery is located and paid our respects at Betty’s final resting place.

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It is a peaceful and serene memorial park honoring Vermont’s veterans and their families.

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Kit and I spent a few hours there in quiet peaceful contemplation as the wind rustled the trees and the birds sang…..all cemeteries should be this nice!

During our stay, Kit made arrangements to meet up with some old friends.  Kit had worked as a computer programmer in nearby Montpelier, and she was delighted to reconnect with two of her former workmates for a nice lunch.

Old Vermont Friends, Photo #3

Jan and Betty are retired as well, and have remained in the area…..yep, that’s the same Soup and Greens where we met Monk for breakfast!  Barre is a small town!

Some other folks we wanted to visit with were Bob and Fay who are making a home for their granddaughters up in Lyndonville, Vermont.  Even though Fay is successfully recovering from some health issues, they graciously invited us up for an afternoon.

Whenever we travel Kit and I like to take the back roads…..true, it usually takes longer and some of the roads can be rough, or in Vermont’s case made from dirt and gravel, they are generally so much more scenic!

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In addition, one stumbles across some of the most interesting items, such as this nautical display.

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Over 600 feet above sea level and 150 miles from the nearest ocean, this family is indeed ready for any effects of global warming!

Bob and Fay are originally from northern Maine but have called Vermont their home for the past thirty plus years.  They live on a 100 acre farm in the Northeast kingdom region of the state and have a lovely home.

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Their granddaughters are actively involved in the local 4H club raising, caring for and showing in competition these rather large fellows.

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Katie, the eldest has won numerous trophies and ribbons at agricultural fairs about the country, and has even been honored by appearing in a promotion for last year’s fair down in Sandwich, NH.

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Her younger sister Kameron is a champion snowmobile racer and has begun raising her own oxen…..here she introduces her charge to the more mature animals.

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As one would expect, the girls have daily chores, which they accomplish like old farm hands.

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They are both intelligent and delightful young ladies!  Bob and Fay have a lot to be proud of!

Following a very nice visit, and an outstanding country style meal, Kit and I made our way back to the campground for the evening.

On one morning we took the opportunity to play tourist in the region we lived in some thirty years ago.  One of the stops was the state capital of Montpelier…..which in our opinion is the most attractive capital city in the nation.

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And features an incredibly beautiful state capital building.

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With a statewide population of a little over a half million folks, Vermont has been successful in maintaining its rural charm.  Over 75 percent of the state is covered in trees and many of those are hardwoods that attract thousands of tourists during foliage season.  Mainly an agricultural state, Vermont produces many dairy products and its famous Maple Syrup.  Kit and I loved the five years we lived in Vermont and might have stayed had the job prospects for a military retiree been a little better.

We also spent a few hours walking about our former town of Barre.  With the nearby Rock of Ages granite quarry and the numerous “stone sheds” in town, coupled with the many Italian artisans that shaped the granite, this blue collar town produces some of the finest Memorial Markers in the world!  The local cemetery is full of the artistic expression that these stone cutters used to create memorials for their own families, such as this marker for a young race car driver tragically killed last year.

This Photo Copied from Google Images

This Photo Copied from Google Images

This young man was a fourth generation race car driver…..I used to enjoy watching his grandfather compete on the quarter mile high banks of Barre’s Thunder Road International Speedbowl which was just a short distance from our home.  What a poignant and lasting memory for a member of an iconic racing family and another example of the fragility of life!

The town of Barre is a mix of old and new, having undergone a gentrification of sorts since we lived here.

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Many old buildings have been repurposed such as the former Granite Savings Bank that is now the Cornerstone Pub.

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Where Kit and I enjoyed a nice late day meal and some local brews.

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Continuing our tour of the area, we drove up into the neighborhood where our former home sat…

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….and discovered, except for the larger trees, the place hadn’t changed much at all!

A great stay in a great area of the US, but tomorrow is another great day as it should be the final push toward home!

 

Thursday, June 25, 2015:  At around 1045, Kit and I rolled out of the Lazy Lions RV Park and made our way to highway US-302.  The weather is perfect for traveling with partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the mid 70’s.

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We are very familiar with this route as we have driven it many times over the years.  Absent of any east west interstate, US-302 is the main artery across the three upper New England states.  Leaving the hills of Vermont, the highway bisects the White Mountains of New Hampshire passing the famous Mount Washington Hotel.

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Entering our home state of Maine, the highway continues east past our camp on Sebago Lake and finally terminates in the seaside town of Portland.  From here it is a short hop on I-95 to our home in Brunswick and at 1845, we backed into our driveway.

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It has been a great trip but Kit and I are glad to be home.  Now, we play catch up and try to get everything ready for the relatively short summer season made even shorter by our extended trip.  Thanks to all for the very nice comments left on our website…..we enjoyed having everyone along for the adventure, so until next year…..bye!

Kit’s Bit’s: It’s always great to arrive home!  We spend the first few days getting reacquainted with the family, neighbors and friends.  From our past experience, we’ve learned that it takes about a month to “transition” to life at home.  We wind up bringing in gobs of stuff from the trailer and cluttering up the house till we can’t find another square inch for all this stuff.  One of these days, I expect someone from The Hoarder Show to be on our door step offering to “help us out”.  Where all this stuff comes from, I have no clue.  Once again, I vow to not pick up any freebies or buy anything other than food…

One other thing; Soup and Greens was established when we lived in VT in the early 80’s.  There was speculation it wouldn’t last, serving only soup and salads.  Fortunately, it has morphed into the local family diner serving quite a variety of “comfort food”!  A GREAT place to meet up with family and friends, it’s now fondly called “Soups”.

Now for the stats:

Cumulative total of the states we have visited.

2015 ex adv places visited

Yep, one missing within the contiguous US…..did you guess Kentucky?

 

And here are the numbers for the trip:

  • Length of Trip:  207 Days
  • Total Distance:  15,422 Miles
  • Total Fuel Used:  1346.3 Gallons
  • Average Fuel Economy (prior camper):  12.1 MPG
  • Average Fuel Economy (new camper):  11.8 MPG
  • Highest Fuel Cost:  $4.28 in California
  • Lowest Fuel Cost:  $2.56 in Arizona
  • Highest Camping Cost with Hook up’s:  $56.20 in Groveland, CA
  • Lowest Camping Cost with Hook up’s:  $17.80 at Fort Bliss, El Paso, TX
  • Average Camping Cost:  $33.97 per Night
  • Freebie Camping:  21 Nights, “THANK’S FOLKS!”

Bill and Kit

Bill and Kit’s 2015 Excellent Adventure, Journal #26

Bill and Kit's Woody and Airstream-2015

50th Logo

A journey is like marriage.

The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.

John Steinbeck

 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015:  Up and on the road at 0740 which marks the earliest start in quite some time.  Kit and I thoroughly enjoyed Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park in Bismarck, North Dakota and intend to return in the future…..lots to see in this area!  It is 51 degrees and a bit cloudy as we roll into the countryside finally connecting with I-94 which led us easterly.

Since we had bailed before breakfast, Kit and I decided to pull into a nice Perkins Restaurant in Jamestown, ND for a quick meal before continuing our journey toward the east.

So, what’s the hurry?  It goes back to yesterday, when I asked the bride where she wanted to spend our special anniversary and she answered; “Bemidji”.  To which I replied “Gesundheit”.  Nope, seems as if Bemidji is a small town in northern Minnesota that Kit has had a secret desire to visit…..and it’s nearly 400 miles to the east, a long haul for the way we travel!  So plotting a course for Bemidji we focused on arriving before dark.

Fortunately, since we are on a mission, there wasn’t much to distract our attention until we encountered Fargo, North Dakota.  Seemed like a neat place to explore but the fact that every other residence had a wood chipper in the dooryard was a bit unnerving.  So we quickly moved on crossing the Minnesota border shortly around noon and pulled into the visitor’s center for a break.

2015-06-05b, Photo #4

Kit was born in Rochester, Minnesota which she is proudly pointing out in the photo above.  Her family left the state when she was nine years old and moved to California.  Good thing for me as we would have never met otherwise…..life is funny like that.  Of all the people in the world, what makes two specific individuals meet and connect?!?!

Back underway, we drove a variety of local and state roads as we meandered our way to the northeast and our headquarters for the next few days.

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Being mid-week Kit and I were able to select a nice secluded site at Lake Bemidji State Park.

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Setting up camp and a great dinner followed by some wandering around the campground led to our turning in for the evening.

 

June 4, 2015

On this day fifty years ago, two nervous teenage high school dropouts, stood before a California Justice of the Peace and were united in marriage.

Bill and Kit, 06-04-65

A few days later they loaded everything they owned in a hand-me-down station wagon, and headed cross country to Key West, Florida in order to begin a new life.

KW Move-1965

There have been many joys, some sorrows, three great kids, five even greater grandchildren and other members of their family as well as many friends that have enriched their lives. 

The Tucker's-2014

We love you all, and love each other even more deeply than on that warm summer afternoon fifty years ago.

 

Thursday, June 4 and Friday, June 5 2013-Lake Bemidji State Park, Minnesota:  Spent the better part of the two days in northern Minnesota exploring the area and reminiscing about the many wonderful experiences Kit and I have shared over the past 18,820 days we have been together.

Our being on the road is the perfect way for us to celebrate this momentous event as our life has been truly nomadic……living in Key West, Charleston, San Diego, Virginia Beach and Barre, before finally settling in Brunswick.  Then, factor in the various camping trailers we have owned over the past 45 years and used to share this great nation with our children and our lives have been an adventure as we rolled about the countryside…..and the journey continues!

Kit and I spent one of our days in Northern Minnesota exploring the small town of Bemidji.  Having a population of only 13,400 folks and at 14 square miles in size it is still the largest town in this rugged and sparsely populated region.

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While Kit perused the shopping opportunities I walked about town, talking to folks, gathering information and snapping photos.

Bemidji has a thriving art scene and there are numerous public art displays spread throughout the six block downtown area.  Many of these are bronze statues and the most poignant is a saluting Vietnam Veteran.

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Then there was the random citizen that wanted to get in on the fun and created their own backyard sculpture.

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Later we connected for an early dinner at the highly recommended Tutto Bene Italian Restaurant.

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Kit selected the Chicken Saltimbocca and I ordered some of the best Gnocchi I’ve ever enjoyed!

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Back in the camper we finished off the evening with a few cocktails and some classy snacks.

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OK, this takes some splannin!  Fifty years ago we spent our honeymoon at the palatial Orange Acres Motel up near Los Angeles.

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The next morning Kit mentioned she was hungry.  So now being the provider, I bravely went a hunting and gathering about the premises and scored a small box of Cheese Nips from the motels vending machine.  Kit wasn’t impressed…..hey, what can I say, I had barely turned eighteen years old and possessed the maturity of a 13 year old!  For many of the past 49 anniversaries, the Cheese Nip story is retold and vast quantities of the fake cheese cracker are consumed!

Oh, and we had our first “misunderstanding” at exactly 18 hours into our marriage.  Kit believed we should spend the day together and explore some of the cultural sights of the region and I wanted to get back to San Diego and go surfing with my buddies…..Kit won that argument, and most every one since!  Yes, I knew I had married Ms. Right…..just didn’t know her first name was ALWAYS!

On day two in Bemidji, we ventured a bit further away and visited Lake Itasca, where the Mississippi River officially begins its long meandering trip to the ocean.

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The Mississippi is the longest river in North America and its headwaters are formed by a vast watershed that drains an immense area of the US as well as parts of Canada…..well, that is the story anyway.  However, in doing some poking around the woods near the supposed “headwaters” I discovered this item hidden in the bushes!

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Yep…..I bet this faucet is actually the source of the mighty Mississippi!

The Mississippi River is largely recognized as the east/west boundary of the continental United States and in the park one can walk across the very first bridge over the river…..here Kit and I are traveling from east to west.

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Returning to the eastern US and back in the truck, we took a ride about this very nice state park

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Until it was time for lunch which Kit and I enjoyed at a nice roadside pullout near a pretty little backwoods pond.

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Following lunch, we were back exploring and came to a dirt road with a sign noting that an out of service fire tower was ahead, and I just had to investigate!

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Yep, there it was!

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And a sign at its base said “climb at your own risk”.  Kit decided to pass and I not having the same common sense, decided to climb.

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The views from the top were spectacular!

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However the tower did sway a bit in the breeze which was a bit unnerving, so I didn’t spend a whole lot of time gawking.

It was a great day in a very nice state park.  When we get back to this area in the future, we will likely stay in the campground at Lake Itasca State Park in order to fully appreciate the area.

Leaving the park, we paralleled the Mississippi River Trail…..a multi-use trail system that follows the river to its conclusion in Venice, Louisiana.  As it nears the Gulf of Mexico, the river fans out in a delta and many distributary channels are formed.  However the main course bisects the city of New Orleans and is a major shipping avenue.  There is concern that the use of man-made river controls are silting up this main artery and the flow is beginning to increase to a channel further to the west.  This, of course, would have a devastating financial impact on the Big Easy!  Plans are underway to redirect the river but face considerable environmental concerns.

Back at camp, we agreed that it had been a great couple of days in the Minnesota North Country and yet another bucket list destination that will remain on the bucket list for a return trip!

 

Saturday, June 6, 2015:  Up early and after a nice breakfast, Kit and I took a walk about Lake Bemidji State Park before pulling out.  The temperatures were in the mid 60’s and the sky look a bit threatening as we explore the parks namesake lake.

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On the road shortly before noon we headed east on US Route 2 for our next destination, the twin cities of Saint Paul/Minneapolis and a return visit with Kit’s Minnesota family.  Why head east?  Well, Kit wanted to roll through the town of Grand Rapids……not the most direct way to the twin cities but a bit more scenic and a route we had yet to enjoy.

Within an hour, we entered the Chippewa National Forest and came to the shores of Lake Winnibigoshis and the Big Winnie Fishing Camps.

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Seemed like an interesting place to pull in for a look about, so we did!

The store and lodge was constructed in the early 1930’s and is an example of classic Bavarian architecture, which is why it is listed on the National Register of Historic Landmarks.  In addition to world class Walleye fishing, the camp has a few other reasons to be regionally famous.  The story goes that a young architect and avid sportsman by the name of Frank Lloyd Wright was constantly asking for advice on fishing the lakes waters…..and the owner of the camp was asking for assistance in designing a structure in the Bavarian style to honor his German heritage.  The symbiotic relationship resulted in this very unusual building in an area populated mostly by Ojibwa Indians and Scandinavian immigrants.

The current caretakers of this classic Northern Minnesota fishing camp spent about an hour showing us around and telling the history and legends of the Big Winnie.

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One of which was its use during WWII as a POW camp.  Located as it was in the isolated north with the challenging weather, it turned out to be a perfect place to house detainees.  Cold kept them close in winter and mosquitoes had the same effect in the summer.

After a great visit, we eased back onto the road.  In about an hour we came to a nice US Army Corps of Engineers (COE) campground on the Mississippi River where it is impounded by a hydro dam.

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Even though there were only 19 campsites Kit and I were able to score one of them for the evening.

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With a beautiful view of the Pokegama Lake out our front window.

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After a walk about the grounds and a nice meal we settled in for the evening listening to the flowing water of the mighty Mississippi outside our camper.

 

Sunday, June 7, 2015:  Kit and I would have loved to stay right here at Pokegama Dam Campground for another night or two…..it was beautiful and being a federal facility our senior passes resulted in half price site fees!  However contrary to our preferred method of travel, we had made reservations for a five day stay in a very popular community campground just south of the twin cities, so reluctantly we rolled out in late morning and continued our travels.

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The weather had turned out nice and the temperatures were a very pleasant 70 degrees as we came to the town of Grand Rapids and stopped for a quick walk about the downtown area.

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Grand Rapids with a year round population of about 11,000 folks came by its name due to the large rapids on the Mississippi River which prevented the rivers steamboat trade from continuing any farther north.  The rapids are now tamed due to a series of dams built in the ensuing years.

A nice little town with a relaxed vibe, it looks like yet another place that deserved exploring a bit more thoroughly, but alas we needed to keep rolling along.  However on our way out of town, we did make a brief stop at the childhood home of Judy Garland, one of Grand Rapids favorite daughters.

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Moving over to US Highway 169, Kit and I headed south around Mille Lacs Lake and at around 1700 we entered the congestion, confusion and aggressive driving that only a city of three million souls can provide.  As we white knuckled our rig through the traffic and construction detours we were relieved to finally roll into the twin city bedroom community of Apple Valley and our home for the next few days…..Lebanon Hills Regional Park.

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Backing into our site, I detected some movement in the grass right behind the gravel pad.  Investigating, I noticed this little mom laying her eggs in a pit of mud she had created by bringing water from a nearby pond.

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Following this interesting and natural spectacle, mom covered the nest with vegetation and with great effort dragged herself back to the pond.  Visibly exhausted…..she was a shell of her former self (pun intended).  I hope there’s a four leaf clover surrounding that nest as there are a number of critters in the woods that would love a turtle egg breakfast!

 

Monday, June 8 through Thursday, June 11, 2015-Lebanon Hills Campground, Apple Valley, Minnesota:  While here, and over 1,500 miles from home, we received the devastating news that our daughter-in-laws mother had lost her courageous battle with cancer.

Monk and Betty-2014

Betty, shown above with her husband Monk, was an incredible woman of faith and grace.  As a career Army wife she made a home for her husband and four children at various locations around the world.  Betty was also an educator, helping to shape the future citizens of our country.  The world is a little bit poorer with the loss of this caring and lovely woman.  Kit and I will miss her deeply…..our condolences and loving thoughts go out to the entire family.

Our stay in the twin cities of Minneapolis-Saint Paul is to be marked by visits with Kit’s family as well as a very special lady.  Henrietta was a true friend to my father, helping to make his final days comfortable and peaceful.  I will always be grateful for the loving care she provided him.  Following my dad’s passing two years ago, she found companionship with Bob, an accomplished musician and genuinely nice fellow.

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We enjoyed a great meal with Henrietta and Bob at a local restaurant and spent a number of hours visiting and getting to know Bob.

Later, Kit and I drove out to Fort Snelling National Cemetery to pay our respects to my father.

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While there, Kit and I were pleased to visit her paternal grandparents’ grave as well.

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It was a pleasant and reflective day; one that proves yet again the fragility of life and reinforces the philosophy to live every day to the fullest.

The weather during our stay for the most part was warm and dry, but one afternoon a huge thunderstorm popped up seemingly out of nowhere!

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All heck broke loose, then just as quickly the sun reappeared and a beautiful double rainbow followed the storm as it exited to the east.

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Keeping with the passed relatives theme, Kit and I also made a pilgrimage to her ancestral home of Hudson, Wisconsin just across the St. Croix River from the twin cities.

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There she wanted to pay her respects to departed relatives that had helped shape the woman she is today.  However, the local cemetery, unlike the military uniformity and computerized precision of Fort Snelling, was a bit chaotic.  We wandered about for a good half hour failing to find a single family gravesite.  A passing local took pity on Kit and me and brought us to the caretaker’s home.  Mike Miller has worked at the cemetery since high school and is its sole full time employee.  Known about town as “Digger” (honest!), he stopped what he was doing, went into the garage and pulled some old yellowed index cards.

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On these quaint vestiges from administrative accounting was all the information on Kit’s relatives!  And since the graves were not laid out in any sequential order, and since there were no informational signs, Digger led us to each and every grave Kit was seeking.

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In addition, since he knew every family in town, Digger proceeded to tell a few stories about each one of Kit’s interred relatives…..ya gotta love small town America!

Since it was time for lunch, Digger steered us to the best spot in town for a meal and some local beer.  The old US Post Office had closed some years ago and a quirky tavern had moved in.

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The Postmark Grill still had many of the trappings of a post office and featured a great menu of unique tavern food.  Kit had the Grilled Chicken Sandwich and I ordered a family sized Buffalo Chicken Pizza.

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And no, I did not eat that entire pizza, a big part of it came back to the camper.  Kit and I enjoyed another full lunch the following day…..and it was just as good!

After the meal, we walked about town and visited some shops before returning to Apple Valley for the evening.

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Tomorrow, we hit the road once again for a trip to Blaine, Minnesota.  Why?  Well, stay tuned!

 

Kit’s Bit’s: This segment of our journey has been most interesting!  First of all, I LOVE being in Minnesota since it’s where I’m from originally.  Bemidji and Grand Rapids are towns my dad used to talk about when I was a kid.  He worked for the Highway Dept. and traveled through the state on different jobs.  It was so nice to finally see the area!  And, since we were about to celebrate our 50th Anniversary, and, I was unsuccessful at finding a treehouse rental, Bemidji was the next best place!  On to the Twin Cities and Hudson, it was great to see Henrietta and my relatives, also nice to see Bill’s dads spot at Fort Snelling as well as my grandparents and uncles graves.  Over in Hudson, we always go by my Grandma’s and Aunt Millie’s homes.  With some help from our new friend, Digger, we were able to find my maternal grandparents graves as well as some other relatives.  As I mentioned earlier, I always feel “at home” in this area since I spent my first nine years there.

Bill and Kit’s 2015 Excellent Adventure, Journal #25

Bill and Kit's Woody and Airstream-2015

50th Logo

What you’ve done becomes the judge of what you’re going to do – especially in other people’s minds. When you’re traveling, you are what you are right there and then. People don’t have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road.

William Least Heat-Moon

 

Note:  I need to acknowledge an oversight in the previous journal that was thoughtfully brought to my attention through a website comment left by Gerry, a friend from back home in Maine.  Being of French Canadian descent, Gerry informs me that French trappers first named the lofty peaks in this national park…..“le grand teton” which means “the big teat”.  Now, that explains a lot!  No wonder I kept staring at them!

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How did I miss that tidbit of information in the National Park literature, and what a missed opportunity for some world class punnery!  I feel like such a big boob!

 

Friday, May 29, 2015:  Today, we pull chocks and head out of this beautiful National Park campground with a renewed appreciation for Mother Nature and her Grand Teton’s (pun intended).

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As on que, to celebrate our departure, the sun has made a spectacular reappearance and the temperature began rapidly rising.

We decided to head north, back up the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway and through Yellowstone National Park.  Not only a very scenic drive but with the parallel mountain ranges of The Grand Tetons (giggle) to the west and the Gros Ventre to the east, there are limited road options available.

Entering Yellowstone National Park by the south entrance, the park road skirted the west side of Yellowstone Lake.  Fortunately there are many scenic overlooks large enough for us to park our truck and trailer and safely enjoy the views.

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Kit and I stopped a number of times along the 22 mile route to Grant Village and walked about to enjoy the spectacular landscape.

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Even though this is the same area we explored yesterday, it took on a whole different look in light (no pun intended) of this bright sunny day.

On our drive through the park we noticed the newly restored 1930’s vintage buses being used once again by the Yellowstone Lodge to ferry folks about the park.

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Continuing our pleasant drive through the park, we continued to pull over to enjoy the scenery and stretch our legs. One stop was at Hayden Valley, where the majority of the parks Bison call home.

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Yellowstone National Park is the only area in the United States where Bison have lived continuously since prehistoric times.  It is estimated that up until the mid-1800’s the nationwide herd numbered sixty million animals before hunting and disease reduced the population to near extinction.  Today 6,000 bison call Yellowstone home.

Five miles from Yellowstone’s north gate lays Mammoth Hot Springs, a large system of geothermal water features that have produced some spectacular natural art.

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Wanting to explore this area more thoroughly, Kit and I took a chance there were vacancies at Yellowstone’s northern most campground…..fortunately there was and we selected the best one remaining.

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It was situated on the valley floor and featured a nearby hiking trail to a small summit where nice views could be enjoyed.

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That evening over dinner, we discussed the next day’s plan before turning in for the night.

 

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Saturday, May 30, 2015:  Following a nice breakfast, Kit and I drove the truck and trailer back up the hill to the visitor’s center where we shared parking with the park’s resident Elk population.

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After viewing a film and gathering information about the region, we set off on foot to explore the area.

Mammoth Hot Springs geological features are created by extremely hot water from nearby volcanic activity migrating through the earth picking up mineral deposits and organic matter.  This mineral rich water finds the surface and trickles down a slopping hillside, depositing the waterborne impurities and creating terraces of Travertine, which is a colorful version of limestone.

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There are raised walkways over these deposits shimmering in the sunlight as the spring’s waters flow underneath.

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Similar to the formations in a live cave, the springs create colorful and unusual formations which are constantly evolving into new shapes.

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Interestingly, wildlife has adapted very well to the geothermal pools.

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Birds were frequently seen walking in the very hot water in search for morsels that may have bubbled up from below.

At the top of the hill where the springs emanate, the superheated water pools for a bit before dribbling over the edge.

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At this altitude, there are panoramic views of the surrounding countryside and of Mammoth Village below.

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Back in the Valley, Kit and I headed for the historic Mammoth Hot Springs lodge.

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After touring the lobby, we enjoyed a nice lunch in the main dining room.

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There was a lawn outside that held a few Elk and this guy was giving me the old “stink eye”.

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I became a bit unnerved when I realized that I might have been dining on his cousin…..yikes!?!?

Later, Kit and I continued to explore the complex, which is largely made up of buildings remaining from Fort Yellowstone now repurposed into national park administration buildings.

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In the 1890’s, not having a presence in the newly established park created an environment for criminal activity so the Interior Department transferred responsibility for security to the War Department.  As a result, a cavalry outpost was built by the US Army to help protect the first in the nation US National Park.

The fort’s museum features many historic photos and artifacts from when it was a thriving military outpost of four regiments.  One such artifact that I thought possessed historical significance was the following:

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I include it here to help those of us that still have difficulty discerning the difference!

It was a nice, unplanned stay in the northern reaches of Yellowstone National Park.  But we must move on…..so at 1330 we headed the rig north on US-81 following the Yellowstone River and within ten minutes we were crossing into the state of Montana.

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A few hours later we descended down from the mountains and started to see some of the prairie lands of the Midwest.

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Soon we intersected I-90 and headed easterly.  Getting a bit tired, Kit found a camping opportunity at the fairgrounds in Harlowton, Montana where we scored a nice inexpensive campsite for the evening.

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Sunday, May 31, 2015: A rather lazy morning as we enjoyed breakfast, then took a walk about the fairgrounds.  At 1100 we hit the road under partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the mid 70’s.  One reason for the late start was we weren’t quite sure where to go next until Kit mentioned she would like to see the town of Two Dot.  When I asked what’s in Two Dot, she said “don’t know, I’ve never been there”.  Made sense to me…..so we headed west (yes, west) toward Two Dot, Montana.

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Unfortunately, we arrived in town during their daily rush hour.

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So carefully maneuvering down the main drag, we found the town’s center of commerce…

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…and the establishment for all 71 of the town’s citizens to gather and discuss the towns’ doings.

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This town came by its unusual name because of an old cattle rancher named Two Dot Wilson.  Old Two Dot donated some of his land to build a town around an existent rail stop on the old Milwaukee Rail Line and was rewarded with naming rights.  So…..how did Two Dot Wilson come by his name?  Why, that was his cattle brand of course…..two dots, side-by-side seared into the rumps of his herd.  So if you ever find yourself traveling down US-12 in this rugged and desolate region of Montana, pull into Two Dot for a visit…..and tell them that Bill and Kit sent you.

Pulling out of town and heading east on US-12 we enjoyed rolling through some very pretty and very flat countryside.

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A stark contrast to mesmerizing and lovely Grand Tetons (giggle).

At about 1530 hours I encountered I-90, and continued east until about 1700 when we rolled into Miles City, Montana and found lodging at the Big Sky RV Park for the evening.

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Interesting but tiring day, so after a light meal we head off to slumberland.

 

Monday, June 1, 2015:  Following a good sized breakfast, Kit and I jump back on I-94 under sunny skies and warm temperatures.  It’s predicted to be near 90 degrees today so we make the decision to head north as soon as possible.  That’s just one of the nice things about traveling in an RV; don’t like the weather, or your neighbors, move on.

Shortly after noon, we crossed into the state of North Dakota which marked a major milestone for Kit and me.  We now have visited 47 of the lower 48 US states…..care to guess which one we have missed?

A half hour later, a sign was encountered that announced we were entering the Little Missouri National Grasslands.

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Twenty minutes later we noticed a road sign for Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  Kit and I had decided a few days ago to bypass this opportunity to explore another national park and save it for a future trip.  However, as we motored along it became apparent that the visitor’s center was right off the interstate, and since Kit and I were due for a break, we decided to reverse our earlier decision that had reversed our initial decision and tag the park after all.

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This 110 square mile park is in three parts, each distinctive from the rest.  The South Unit that we visited features part of the famed badlands area.

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Teddy Roosevelt came to this area often to hunt Elk and Bison.  He also built Elkhorn Ranch which, interestingly, was managed by two woodsmen from Maine.  Following Roosevelts death, President Truman designated the area as The Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Park…..the only such facility in the National Park System.

After a nice stop at the visitor’s center, Kit and I enjoyed a walk down a short path to a scenic overlook.

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And returned to the camper for lunch before easing back onto I-94.

At 1430, we crossed into the Central Time Zone and a few minutes later made a stop for fuel.  Obtaining diesel with a trailer in tow hasn’t really been an issue.  I can either use the standard fuel islands or the truckers lanes, which I decided to do in this case.

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The fuel islands for truckers are wide, tall, and feature high capacity fuel pumps on both sides so maneuvering around a fuel station to get the trucks fuel door on the correct side isn’t necessary.  The high capacity pumps have larger nozzles and will fill my 36 gallon tank very rapidly.

Back on I-94, I drove another couple of hours before pulling into Bismarck, North Dakota and finding our way to Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park for the evening.

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And being early in the season, we were able to select a nice secluded site.

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After a quick meal and some computer time, it was time to hit the sack.

 

Tuesday, June 2, 2015-Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park:  Up relatively early for a walk about the campground.  Since we have recently been on the go a lot, Kit decided that this will be a down day.  Agreeing, I rode my bike back to the gate and paid for an additional night’s stay.

Fort Abraham Lincoln, as most non-commercial park campgrounds we have stayed, is in a natural, historic and beautiful part of the state.

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The area was originally an Indian encampment called On-A-Slant Village, where tribe families lived in earthen lodges.

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Which were structurally supported by cottonwood logs, and willow branches.

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Once covered with mud, these homes would remain relatively comfortable in all seasons.

Being near where the Northern Pacific Railway was planned to cross the Missouri River, a fort was built by the US Army for protection from hostile Indians.  The first commander of this fort was LTC George Armstrong Custer…..his family’s quarters are on a hillside overlooking the fort and it has been carefully restored.

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It was from this fort that the young army officer set out with his cavalry battalion of 700 men toward the Little Bighorn River, and his ultimate demise.

While here, Kit and I enjoyed the many walking paths that paralleled the Missouri River.

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Where we noticed the residual effect of the 2011 flood that inundated this area and caused massive destruction.

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However, aquatic critters cause damage to the parks trees as well, regardless of the futile attempts park personnel make to discourage the little busy beavers.

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The state park is honeycombed with multi use trails that range from river front, woodland to open prairie.

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I had a blast riding these trails, that were very well marked and maintained…..even to the point of stone steps to climb the steeper portions of the trail.

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Um, yea…..I walked the bike over these, but they did appear ridable.

What a great find…..one of many that we unexpectedly stumbled across during our travels and decide to stay on for an additional day.  We absolutely love traveling without an itinerary!

It is getting very near our 50th anniversary and we have discussed where to spend the major milestone day.  Kit and I were in agreement that it really doesn’t matter as long as we are together and happy…..so where might the next few days take us?  We don’t know!  Guess we all will find out together…..stay tuned!

Kit’s Bit’s: I absolutely loved the Grand Tetons!  Somehow, we missed seeing them on our last trip to Yellowstone which was in 1974.  I suppose we were so focused on getting to Yellowstone and were also on a “schedule” that year that we didn’t even realize what we were missing.  The entire area is so incredibly beautiful!  Also, I thoroughly enjoyed our stay in Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park.  It was neat camping right on the Missouri River.  Once we realized how bad the big flood had been, we were looking all around the park for evidence of it.  The rangers have done a wonderful job restoring the park to full service.  This was one of the nicest parks we’ve ever seen during our travels.  I would love to stay there again for a week!