Written on the roll

I will not describe the monuments, they have been photographed and used in so many media that they are totally familiar to all. We stayed in a very nice camp ground in Hill City, very close to the center of monument area, it is Crooked Creek CG and we would certainly stay there again, if we return to the area. While we were there a collectors car club was gathering for a weekend rally and there were plenty of cars from the 20’s 30’s and more recent already encamped as we were there. I would suggest that if you have not been to the area it is well worth the trip. We took a 22 mile loop road, in the car, that twists and turns and goes through several tunnels, two of which afford splendid views of the Mt Rushmore framed in the tunnel opening. Along the way we passed Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park and decided it would be a great place for paddle number two in our boat. We returned with the boat and had a fine time on this tiny gem of a lake with rock ribs protruding from it and gentle shores all around.

Our one dinner out in the area – at Ruby’s in Keystone can best be described as Iceberg Lettuce and bland coffee. It wasn’t bad, just not good. On the other hand, our lunch in the restaurant at the Crazy Horse Monument was delightful and inexpensive. Also the Board of Directors, including Korcak’s wife, Ruth, were at the next table. We spent 4 or more hours there and could have stayed longer.

The next day, Friday, I think, found us on the road toward Madison WI, some 750 miles to the east. First we had to drive through the SD Badlands. All the guidebooks take this route east to west, but were going the other way. In retrospect, the approach from the east would be far more impressive. You would have driven 400 miles of straight flat highway and then encountered this 1,000 foot wall that forms the first impression the pioneers had of this area. We had that view in our mirrors as we descended onto the plain. Ah, but first as we entered the Badlands from the west we had to stop in Wall, SD at Wall Drug where we were able to actually purchase some drugstore items we were in the market for. Of course you could buy almost anything else there too. This is another not to be missed ONE TIME stop.

We drove east across SD the rest of the day and still did not make it to Minnesota. We stopped in Mitchell, SD at Rondee Campground which had the benefit of being Passport America (50% off) and being located just off I 90 and on the edge of town. In Mitchell one must visit the Corn Palace. It has had its exterior redone in corn, rye and other material since 1892. Of course the current building is the third one, but it dates back to 1913. Once we saw it there was nothing left to do but hit the road, and we did. Crossing the rest of South Dakota and all of Minnestoa took up the rest of the day. As we approached the Mississippi River, I started looking for a place to spend the night. The Exit Source (a book that lists every business within ¼ of a mile of every Interstate exit) said there was camping at exit 2 in La Crosse, WI. We got off and took the indicated turn and found ourselves on an industrial road with no indication of camping availability. As we proceeded to the end we had the La Crosse airport on our left and at the end there was a large paved area that had the look of extended disuse. It was perfect for an overnight dry camp. As we settled in our seats to contemplate it, I noticed the Airport Police and Fire Office with one car in the parking lot. It occurred to me that they might have an interest in anyone wanting to park where we were. I walked over and rang the bell and was admitted. The officer who greeted me was clearly nonplussed at my request. And had to think about how to respond, this resulted in the natural easy response for any security officer, NO! We moved on and two miles later we pulled off for a Wal Mart/Sam’s Club parking lot. The Wally was abandoned, clearly replaced by a Super Wally someplace, but the Sam’s Club was in business and all ready inhabited by motorhome set up to spend the night. We joined them. In the morning we were up by 7 and we walked through the parking lot to a Panera Bread store that had just opened and had breakfast there while Carol got her Mac online using their free WiFi. We returned to Gee 2 by way of a Farmers Market that had just opened in the parking lot and bought some fresh vegetables that we didn’t need, but looked too good to leave there. We then set course for Madison, WI and cousin Mimi whose home we have never seen. We arrived at Mendota Park and Campground by noon, slightly frazzled by a dispute between Hal and the TrailerLife Campground Guide, at polite way of saying we got lost. I Stopped and Asked for Directions with no coaching from Carol!!

By 2 PM we were showered and had lunch prepared for Mimi and her friend Kate. Both of Mimi’s homes are in a state of turmoil as she is finishing preparing one to move into the other is being taken apart for moving out of. Kate’s home is also in a state of remodeling so Gee 2 became the venue. Since we were situated on a lake (hard not to be in Madison) they brought a long a kayak and we got the new boat out and had out third outing on it. This is a bigger lake with power boats and waves and the PaddleSki responded well enough and was not excessively disturbed by the waves. For those interested in campgrounds this one would be an all ‘round 10 if had had water and sewer on site. As it is it is mostly 30 amp electric and the water and sewer are on premises but not at the sites. There are shaded sites and sunny sites and there is ready access to the lake and Madison is just around a bend in the lake. Gravel pads and nice grass for the camping areas made it very comfortable. Reservations must be made 10 days ahead and do call during “ normal business hours,” there is no on site staff and registration is DIY. There was a very nice host present when we were there. We greatly enjoyed our visit with Mimi and Kate and concluded it with a fine meal at Edo’s and very nice Japanese restaurant where Carol and I were delighted to be Mimi’s guest.

After a too brief night’s sleep we got our act together and were rolling by 8:28. We are still rolling as I write this at 4:15. We expect to arrive in Cedarville CG by about 6:30 to hook up with Norm and Shelley Topf who we first met in Perry, GA and most recently spent a week with in Minot.

Better Late Than Never

Hmm, it is now Aug 24 and I am not sure what has even been posted. I will start from where we entered the fairgrounds on Friday morning. This was very early. The actual convention gets under way on Monday afternoon with people arriving until Monday noon. We are in an area that will be served with electricity on either Saturday or Sunday morning depending on who you believe and the ground under us is sand. We will not have ready access to empty holding tanks or fill with fresh water until the following Friday. We are on strict water conservation in most coaches. That means any meals taken on board will be consumed on paper or plastic and meal preparation will be very limited to avoid significant use of water for cleanup. Grill it or order it in. Showers become a very brief event in a manner that only a US Navy sailor from WWII might understand. There is no readily available laundry so we will make do with what is on board, this not a major hardship as most of us can last a week between laundries anyhow.

Carol is excited about giving her Seminar on photo composition on Wednesday, but we have other things to do before that day arrives. We have agreed to be volunteers, on the Security Detail as it turns out, as part of attending with the Chai Chapter. Carol and I drew three stints of four hours at the entertainment venue for the “Big Shows.” Tuesday was New Odyssey in the Grandstand, an antique outdoor venue best used for watching demo derbies, which is its main use. Preserving any semblance of security became a joke. We had fun welcoming people, being sure they had their badges and ignoring the few who had forgotten theirs. The banter was lively and we enjoyed ourselves enough that we looked forward to the following night with Roy Clark. We had a fine time again, but he was well beyond any ability to entertain. I am not sure if it was recovery from hip surgery six months prior or the pain killers he kept talking about or maybe just age.

Given the weather, oh yes it had rained on Monday night and everything was a sea of mud, they decided to move the third night, The Lettermen, into the indoor arena. This turned into a nightmare for Carol and me. The arena had been used as a meeting room throughout the convention and many people were aware of the back way in to get to the main floor as a result. Unfortunately, that entry was not going to be available because it went right through the area reserved for the entertainers’ dressing rooms. We had to welcome people and guide them to the stands and prevent them from entering the main floor by the easiest route. Even worse this meant there was no apparent entry for those unable to negotiate stairs. To make it even worse we were not given directions to tell people how to get to the main floor without taking stairs. At first we were sending them into the area where the exhibitors were trying to dismantle their booths. Then we sent them into oblivion the other way. After we had misdirected several hundred people we finally got a route that was essentially “leave, walk around the outside of the building and come in from the other side.” Needless to say, many people were not at all happy with us. One man told me to “be nice and just let the man on the scooter in” I put my Security Hat on his head and told him “if you want the job, be my guest!!” That was the last I saw of him and I still have the hat.

Did I mention a sea of mud? There were outlying parking areas on grass that had several large coaches mired up to their bodywork, had they listened and stayed put there would have been no problem. We did not try to move until Thursday. It started to sprinkle again and we had to have the coach in place to be weighed at 9 the following morning. We moved Gee 2 to a front row spot, vacated by an early departure, just a few tens of feet from the paved road. We slept better that night. Our weights were just fine. The left front is 50 pounds heavier than the right. I told Carol that we could fix that real easily; have her do all the driving!

You will have to ask Carol about the seminar. I was there and thought she was brilliant and by far the best seminar presentation I had ever attended, I even stayed awake all the way through it. But then I might be accused of bias. It was well attended and she received many compliments.

We needed some time to ourselves by now. We set off to Hazen, ND. That is as close to no place as you are likely to get. You could look it up; it is on ND 200 30 miles south of Sakakwea Lake (that is NOT a misspelling, at least by me) and 80 miles or so West of Bismarck. The most important thing we did there, besides laundry and a lot of clean up, was to try out our new boat. Doesn’t every second home need a boat? We bought a 13 foot inflatable Kayak made by SeaEagle. It is in the form of a double pontoon boat with place for two seats on the fabric between the pontoons. It inflates in about 5 minutes with included foot pump and turns out to be a delight on the water. We found a spillway impoundment below Garrison Dam that had little current and was set below the dam and surrounding landscape so as to be sheltered from the wind. There we inflated and launched the boat and had a grand time exploring the rather small area and our new boat. It is a wonderful toy. It takes 15 minutes from car to water and a little longer to stow because it needs to dry for 20 or 30 minutes. Whenever we venture out where that might be water and time the kayak will be in the back of the car.

It was time to explore western ND. We headed for Theodore Roosevelt National Park at the extreme western end of the state. It features the ND Badlands and Grasslands as well as Medora. We had plenty of water and no reservations were available in the area so we headed for the National Park Cottonwood Campground. Arriving a little after the noon checkout time we found a glorious, huge site that claimed to be right on the Little Missouri River. I eventually did get to the river, but it was a bit of a walk. By five in the afternoon there was no place even in overflow for anyone to park. Our neighbor recognized us as having been at the Minot Rally and offered us a coupon that we had misplaced to the Musical at Medora. We trundled into town and picked up tickets to the musical and to the Pitchfork Fondue and Buffet that preceded the musical. From there we returned to the park and did a rather hurried circuit of the 30 mile loop road to get a feel for the place. Along the way we saw plenty of Black Tailed Prairie Dogs, some turkeys and several herds of Bison. At one point we had to stop because the Bison were taking their time crossing the road or doing whatever it is they are doing when they walk along the road.

We returned to Gee 2 and showered and got ready to go to the Pitchfork Fondue, well you may ask “What is a Pitchfork Fondue?” There was a very nice buffet line with plenty of salad and veggie to satisfy Carol and at the end of the line the staff was cooking steaks speared on pitchforks in huge drums. Better description: the staff was overcooking steaks. . . It was a lot of fun the music was country and Bernie and Marlene turned up to sit with us. They were attending a Spartan Chassis Rally in town. (For the non Rvers – Spartan is a manufacturer of Diesel chassis used by a number of different Coach manufacturers and they have clubs for owners just like the coach manufacturers). The musical was very elaborate. The amphitheater must have been 5 stories high and the backdrop, when the stage wagons were rolled back was the North Dakota Badlands. The production was really high end college level. The singing was good and we really enjoyed ourselves. The featured attraction was the Chinese Golden Dragon Acrobats! Their act did nothing to forward the story of the history of Medora, but it was great fun. The show ran two hours and there was a five minute intermission, barely time to get to and from the restrooms, much less make use of them. The finale was TR riding horseback over the ridgeline in the distance followed by the National Anthem. It was very stirring.

The next day, Sunday the 21st, we decided to visit the site of the Elkhorn Ranch which was TR’s home ranch in ND in the late 1800’s. The site is now a couple of hundred acres located halfway between the North and South Units of the park. Access to the site is more difficult than most national park areas. There is nothing left to see as the buildings were scavenged for material when TR abandoned the ranch in 1890 or so. We called the Rangers for guidance and directions. Here, in short form, are the directions we received. “Go north up East River Road which will become 702 for about 25 miles on good gravel. When you come to the abandoned school house there will be signs for two left turns and one right turn, take the soft left to the Mosser Ranch and proceed about ¼ mile until you see an abandoned white school van in the brush, park and wade across the river where you will pick up a double track. Follow that until you see a NP sign (white on brown) pointing the way to a mowed path.” He did not comment on the quality of the last stretch of road – unimproved would be a kindness. He did not say that there would be only one sign and it consists merely of an arrow pointing to the right with no indication of what it points to. We did as directed and eventually found a gate with a visitor log for us to sign in. The log was a single lined page and the entry on the first line was dated 11/04 and the last entry before ours was dated 9 days previous. We tramped around the area startling some turkeys and many other small birds. And we eventually arrived at the home site which is fenced off by the archeologists who worked the site in the 1960’s. We returned to the car and had a picnic lunch while we marveled at having experienced the place that was so important to TR in his recovery from the death of his mother and first wife on a single day. The lack of buildings and the relative difficulty of getting there made this a special spot for us too. If you are in the area, do make the effort, Carol and I found the hiking not too strenuous and the drive was great fun, the car is still filled with dust from the road after a week and a couple of washes.

On to South Dakota and the Mt Rushmore Memorial and the Chief Crazy Horse Monument. I hope I can get that written and posted soon as we are now in Mitchell, SD, the home of the Corn Palace. Go figure.

Traverse City to Minot

Some time far later. Actually, Sunday night Aug 14. I had best write this before I forget it altogether. After touring the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore we got back in touch with the Jim and Barb and headed for their cottage in Interlochen. This is the home of Interlochen Music Camp which is quite a huge facility with many campers who are gifted in music and various other arts. It turns out their cottage is just across a rather small lake from the camp and it is very lovely. After touring the cottage, Barb took us on a tour of the camp. Needless to say we were very impressed. We were so impressed that we want to begin discussions about the possibility of Josh (our eldest grandchild) attending next summer to explore his interest in flute more deeply. This is the first his parents are hearing about this (I think). After the tour We returned to their cottage and we had a delightful dinner on their pontoon bout out on the lake. This was capped off with an evening of bridge (an early evening on their part as we had miles to drive and are much earlier people in any event. The bridge was fun and Carol got back into her game better than she expected. I am very rusty but have always loved the game.

Our return to Timber Ridge found stragglers still at the campfire, but we quietly settled in and were soon asleep. In the morning we set off with no real idea where we would get to as we traveled up the peninsula toward the Upper Peninsula (hereafter U P) past Petosky and over the Mackinac (pronounced Mackinaw) Bridge. We crossed the U P rather more quickly than I had anticipated as there was little for us to do in a day. We don’t fish or hunt so it is really lost on us. That night we found ourselves in Bayside Campground 16 miles outside of Escanaba, MI. The buildings at the campground could do with renovation by dynamite, but the camping area was very nice. The people we met were very friendly and we made friends with Jean and Garret Mulder who were also on their way to Minot. Jean mentioned, almost in passing that she would like to join the volunteer organization when Carol mentioned that we would be doing that at the Rally. We parted ways the next morning with intentions of seeking each other out once we were in Minot.

The next night we made it to Saginaw, MN. The Saginaw CG has everything possible against it. It sits at a major turn in US 2, between both legs of the highway with a major rail line as its back property line. Across the street is a gas station/saloon/package store. The people we met were very nice. The owner dropped off a large load of firewood in out fire pit for no charge!! And the neighbors, as usual, were friendly. Traffic on 2 is actually quite limited and even the trains were few in the night. We slept well and were ready for an early departure in the morning. This day was nice drive to the Bemidji, MN area followed by a horrendous battle with an unnecessary detour. We had selected Hamilton’s Fox Lake Campground for its Passport America discount more than anything else. (For those new to this blog and not RVers, that is a 50% discount from normal price). We had three distinct sets of directions, two in the campground guides we carry and the third provided by HAL. We discounted the HAL route since the route numbers seemed to indicate improved dirt roads. The other two routes made life confusing. Having selected one, we ran into a “road closed three miles ahead” sign. We had no idea whether our next turn was in more or less than three miles. Fifteen miles later we returned to the closed road to find we could not go back to where the campground turn was and there was no other access to civilization for some distance. There was no way to turn around even if we unhooked the car. I zoomed in the range on my GPS and located some back roads that appeared to provide an “around the block” turn around albeit a several miles long further detour. Finally we got back to the original road closed sign and proceeded though it to find almost immediate access to the turn we wanted. With gas prices high and rising, 30 miles or more out of the way is far more frustrating than usual especially since we would not have time to explore Bemidji. If you wonder why you know the name, it is the home of Paul Bunyan and his great Blue Ox Babe and frequently the coldest place in the US. The campground is delightful. It sits directly on Fox Lake with sites in three rows facing the lake. There is water access and boats to rent and nice level grass sites for the motorhome. We had full hookups and could clean off the bugs and make ourselves ready to join the throngs in Minot.

Wednesday, August 10 found us up early facing our longest drive of the trip so far, 330 miles. In a car that may not seem like much, but by the end of that day we would have covered 1091 miles (detours included) in four days. This is not our usual mode of travel. We got up early and set out for Minot. Somehow both of us were ready for shorter driving shifts than usual and we found ourselves stopping and changing every 90 minutes or so. I took the last shift and extended a bit as I did not want to stop until I saw a gas station with $2.349. It took me a bit to figure out that the high test was cheaper than the regular because it has 10% ethanol. I have 45 gallons of the ethanol loaded fuel to burn off when I leave here and prices are much higher and climbing as we sit. I can easily see a $150 fill up in my future.

We pulled into Swenson’s RV on route 2 in Minot to join our friends from Chavuarat Yehudim in the pre rally get together. Swenson’s is an RV Dealer/Campground that does not know what it wants to be when it grows up. The campground is brand new – carved from a field in May of this year, and it really amounts to a gravel parking lot with side by side hookups. It is not the greatest, but it was available and we were all parked together. The location, five miles from our lot at the fairground, was also pretty good. We joined up with the Elowskis, Topfs, Singers, Dobrins, and Ploessers. The latter couple are not members of Chai, but met the Topfs in Alaska and became close friends. We had dinner together outside the Topf’s coach each bringing our own dinner. We all got into a frenzy of cleaning. I had to make the exterior as clean as I could get it without a ladder while Carol was busy scrubbing the interior. Our friends likewise were busy getting rid of the dirt of travel, in some cases several months including travel in Alaska. By Thursday afternoon the coaches were all clean and the refrigerators and food files were well stocked. We were ready to go into the fairground and we went out to Chinese buffet at the China Star. A couple of us were not real well that night. By drive time in the morning I was feeling much better.

At 9:00 sharp we rolled out of the campground in an impressive caravan of 6 clean coaches and 15 minutes later we were pulling into our assigned slots at the fairground, five miles away.

Summer 2005 Excursion to Minot ND and places in between – I

We set out on Tuesday August 2 at 3 in the afternoon with our usual well planned itinerary. It read “stop in Hamilton, ON for two nights to visit family; drive to Minot ND by Friday the 12th, by way of Canada, Michigan, Minnesota, sot of and then find ourselves in Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON for Labor Day Weekend. Well thought out and clearly workable, but lacking some details, so what else is new.

Crossing the border at Lewiston felt like the old times; “Where are you going? What is your citizenship? Who long will you stay in Canada? Have a nice day! We continued on toward Hamilton’s Confederation Park along the lake. We have driven by this park so many times without noticing its existence over the years. The 88 exit off QEW just before going over the Burlington Skyway Bridge leads right into the parks, well almost, we did miss the actual entrance because it looked like an amusement park no indication of a campground and after our recent stay at six Flags Darien Lake with our grandson Josh, we were not anxious to go to another amusement park, but I digress. . . so what else is new.

As we neared Hamilton it started to rain, no it started to deluge with great bursts of lightening and wind. Carol had to slow way down just to see the road. Later we learned about the plane crash at Pearson which may have happened in that same storm a bit earlier. It was as violent as we have seen and the thought of setting up in it was not pleasant. By the time we reached the campground the storm had cleared, the sun was out and we could set up and enjoy the grounds. We took the bicycles down from the roof and set out for a look see ride. We turned onto a paved path that follows the lake shore. It is a major Ontario Hike/Bike/Skate way that loops around the lake from Hamilton to Toronto and beyond. It is not entirely complete and we certainly were in no condition to bike to Toronto, but we had a nice ride and went back for dinner onboard.

In the morning we took another longer ride before breakfast as our morning exercise. It was delightful. We then set off to visit Carol’s Aunt Dorothy and Uncle Mel in their new condo. We used maps provided by Stan and Susie, our neighbor’s, who as Canadians had good mapping software for Canada, a lack on my part I shall have to make up before we do this again. Dodo is the youngest of the seven siblings in her generation and is now 82. It is wonderful to see her still active and interested in all kinds of things. Mel is aging a bit more, but is doing fine. After lunch and lots of talking, we left them to walk to the AGH (Art Gallery of Hamilton) just a few blocks from their new home. We had a too brief tour before heading back up to get the car to head for Marilyn and Al’s in Dundas. We found our way with only one extra phone call for help and had a wonderful visit, lovely dinner and then they came out to the campground with us to see Gee 2.

We left Hamilton by 10 the following morning and had no real idea how far we were going. The software seemed to say we could make Traverse City, MI in one day, but we seldom push as hard as the software assumes (I never remember to build in an hour for lunch and other stops and we do like to be off the road by 5 at the latest. As we cleared the border at Sarnia, ON (Port Huron on the US side) with less trouble than we had entering Canada it became clear we were not going to continue all the way to Traverse City. With much indecision and changing of minds – at 60 miles and hour – we picked Herrick Park in Clare, MI as our stopping place. This county park had little to offer in the way of amenities and even water was not piped to the site, but there was electricity which would be needed to run the air conditioner to ward off the heat. As we neared Clare it began to pour. As we approached the park, once again dreading setting up in pouring rain, it cleared and the sun came out. This felt like déjà vu.

Later, as we took a short walk, the lady from the neighboring campsite stopped us to compliment Carol on the nice work she did backing Gee 2 into the fairly tight site. Not a lot of women traveling with men are willing to do close quarter maneuvering for many different reasons, not the least are feelings of inadequacy which can be encouraged by male browbeating. I don’t get away with it and she handles Gee 2 just fine under most conditions.

It happened as we were traveling toward Traverse City, that I remembered that we knew someone who spent part of their summer at Interlochen, just outside of Traverse City, and I had the phone number with me. We called Barb and Jim Present and arranged to get together at their cottage on Saturday late afternoon. Barb provided us with plenty of ideas to occupy ourselves in the area and the important things to see. A short drive on Friday morning had us ensconced at Timber Ridge Campground about 15 minutes away from the center of the city. This was a very nice campground with many amenities that we never did get to take advantage of as we left early and returned late each day. The only problem was created by a large family, actually two families I think, with more kids under ten than I chose to count. As late as we returned they were still up at the campfire no9t more than 30 feet from our left front corner. When we got up in the morning, there was already someone at the campfire circle, they must have slept in shifts and they were not particularly quiet.

Quick tour of Traverse City (hereafter TC). The action takes place on Front Street. Friday night was a street fair with plenty of bands and food and booths selling goods from the shops. First we drove up the Peninsula which divides the bay that TC sits on into East Arm and West Arm , all the way to Old Mission. This is 20 miles. We stopped at a couple of farm markets and bought cherries and then we stopped at Chateau Grand Traverse winery for a tasting. We actually bought two bottles of Chardonnay and two of a Riesling. Their reds were quite unexceptional. After this we found parking along Front Street and wandered for a couple of hours before zeroing in a dinner which was at 310 located uniquely at 310 Cass Street. Dinner was fine and we can recommend it if you are in the mood for dining outside on the river and the menu works for you. I had Ahi Tuna and Carol had a wonderful salad.

Saturday we decided to worship by seeing the wonders of the area and we set off for Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore.

To be continued. . . I have an internet connection that is rather tenuous so I will post this from Saginaw MN (that’s right MN not MI) just west of Duluth. This is another story yet to be told.