Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Glorious Glacier National Park...

Neither one of us had been to Glacier so no idea really what to expect. The trip in was strange in that we left Ft Peck, MT after a 95 degree day so any relief from that at Glacier was going to be welcomed. You know the old saying be careful what you wish for and certainly that proved to be the case. We came into Two Medicine on the East side and from the very beginning the Park was beyond anything I had ever seen and I have seen a good many of them. Unfortunately we just missed the last camping spot at Two Medicine and headed for St. Mary’s about an hour north. It was getting late so we were concerned about finding our spot for the night. St Mary’s did in fact have some spots in the Park and with my Senior Pass we paid the $13 a day for the next two weeks and proceeded to set up the camp and trailer for dinner and bed. Well the next morning it was about 45 degrees and raining, “watch what you wish for”. It stayed like that for 4 more days with only occasional breaks. I felt especially for the foreign visitors to the Park, and there were a good many, that had come thousands of miles only to find rain and very chilly weather. One on day when the sun came out we set out on the “Road to the Sun” a 50 mile road over the Continental Divide to explore new territory. Wow! The drive was simply breathtaking and the scenery so spectacular there is no way to describe it. Wild flowers on both sides of the road and massive mountains with waterfalls dumping the Glaciers melt either to end up in the Mississippi or the Columbia depending on which side of the divide we were on. We stopped at an Old Lodge at Lake McDonald built around the turn of the century by the railroad companies. It sat right on this spectacular glacier lake and if not for dating the cars you wouldn’t know if it was 1936 or 2009. In fact the old White motors busses have been refurbished and run all over the park. They were built by the White Company in 1936 and 37 and refurbished by the Ford Company in 2002. It’s hard to believe but Lake McDonald is 450 feet deep. Several days later when again the sun peaked out we hiked the Nature Trial at Sun Point on the highway and were going to push on to Lake Mary Falls but again the sun disappeared and the rain came back so we “forced marched” the two miles back to the car. Wet and cold we drove home to try another day. The next day we explored the lodge at Many Glacier and again a spectacular look back as it is right on Many Glacier Lake and a really neat place with huge fireplaces and the look of an old Swiss Hotel. It was said in 1936 a fire came close to taking the hotel and without the diligence and work of the people there it would have been gone. The President of the Great Northern commented at the time, “Why did you do that”? The hotel in the middle of the depression had been losing $500,000 per year and a fire looked like a good out to him.
A Fox in Camp
We have a “camp” fox that runs right by our trailer almost on a daily basis. Yesterday he walked right up to Beth, looked her over and ambled on about his business. We also woke up yesterday to a large mound of bear poop right in front of the trailer. There are signs on every trail warning of the bears so having one this close was probably not unexpected. It did however feel good to have a camper and not a tent. There is no electricity in these camp sites so my little Honda generators are doing there job of keeping us with lights and plugs and charging the battery. You can’t run them at night and so several nights we woke to a close to dead battery after having had the heater on very low. I would rate the 50 mile Road to the Sun as probably the most spectacular highway I have ever been on. The highway was completed in 1932 and at some points is only wide enough for two cars and the drop off are pretty much straight down for thousands of feet. The entire road is being redone and all the rock work done in the 30’s is being refurbished. This is a good thing as roads were not in good shape. Today we are off to the St Marys and Virginia Falls. Hopefully this time, no rain.
Back again, and the hike was wonderful, a total of about 4 miles at a pretty slow pace. With the melt of the glaciers and upper snows there are falls all over the place but these were particularly pretty. We were sitting out at our outside table two nights ago and the “fox” came back for a visit. He looked at me and then began to amble up to me he got about 3 feet away, Beth said something and he turned and walked to the back of the trailer. At that point he took one of my running shoes by the laces and proceeded to drag it off. He drug it under the trailer before deciding perhaps it wasn’t going to be good to eat, dropped and was on his way. We decided that we wanted to try fly fishing in the park and took our waders down to the foot of St Mary’s Lake for a try. Wow, the scenery was beyond belief as the sun was beginning to set and the mountains were beginning to take on the pink hue of the sunset. We waded out to where there was obvious action as many fish were hitting the surface at the same time and were able to catch 4 whitefish, a variety common to the lake, and let them go. I won’t say they were trophies but hey we did catch fish. We also went to a presentation and dancing by the Black Feet Indians which was quite interesting and entertaining. We watched a “chicken dance” and a “feather dance” with elaborate costumes and live Indian music. The Black Feet are doing their best to keep the traditions of the Plains Indians alive. The entire East side of the Park is the Black Feet Reservation and about 8000 Indians are living in it. We were told the Black Feet sold the land for the Park to the US Government in the late 1800’s for $1.5 million and kept the balance of the reservation. I understand it wasn’t the beauty we were after but the possible gold and silver in the mountains. We also visited The East Glacier Lodge in East Glacier. This incredible building was built by the Great Northern Railroad in 1913 and the lobby was supported by massive pine trees whose bark as still on.
Yesterday was fishing in Duck Lake with our Indian guide Marc. Marc was somewhat unusual in that he was blue eyed and blond haired but a full member of the Black Feet Tribe. The boat was a fourteen foot aluminum lake boat that seemed to be slowly filling with water as we fished. The motor was a Mercury 7.5 HP that one might have found in a museum except half the cover was broken off. In spite of this Marc was knowledgeable and we enjoyed his company. Duck Lake is not in the Park but in the Reservation. I caught two rainbows so not a good day of fishing and don’t want to think about how much each fish cost us but needless to say it was an expensive meal.
The Bears
One that day we set off on a boat, hike trip on Two Medicine Lake. The boat was built in 1926 and was of course wood and in perfect condition. We hiked up to a lake in the woods whole only access was by foot. After traveling through this “bear” country all day I bought Beth a bear pin the next day to celebrate her conquering her bear fears. On that day we did the boat hike at Many Glacier and this was actually two boats and two lakes. We decided to hike back to Many Glacier Lodge after taking the boat one way and proceeded on the three-mile hike back. As we were hiking along edge of one of the lakes we noticed something in the water and with further inspection is was a bear swimming from one side of the lake to our side. I put the binoculars on him and he appeared to be a Grizzly and was coming toward our shore. We were perhaps 100 yards away when he made shore and through the binoculars I could see as he left the water he was clearly a large grizzly. He headed up the hill to the huckleberry and service berry patches which must have looked better on our side of the lake. That even Beth and I again decided to fly fish at the bottom of Lake Mary and had been fishing for perhaps 20 minutes when Beth looked at me and said look to your right. I thought she had spotted an eagle as we had talked about eagles earlier that day and I was intently scanning the trees and turned about and said I don’t see anything. She said,”to your right, to your right!” and again I looked and this time saw it; a good size black bear coming down to the water for a drink not more than 50 yards from my position. At that point we decided to slowing end our fishing expedition and we made it back up the hill to our car. Wow, two bears in one day. The next morning our last in the Park we were servicing the trailer, i.e. dumping waste water and taking on fresh before the trip and again Beth said look up there. Another decent size black bear was enjoying the berry patch just ahead of the dump site. Within a short time the bear had attracted quite a bit of attention and he simply ambled down to the road, between two cars that had stopped to look at him and off in the woods on the other side. In the old days at Glacier, bears and people came together a good bit but it ruins the bears as they continue to look for handouts and puts people at risk as they begin to view bears like dogs. Now, seeing a bear is a “wild” bear and any bear that hangs out too long around camp sites is removed from the park. There are 350 grizzly bears in the Park and about 650 black bears so quite a bear population and of course they are all living totally in the wild as they might have hundreds of years ago. I would put Glacier National Park on your “bucket list” and when you do go, hike and explore as this is truly an area unchanged by time and our modern population. With little effort you can imagine the mountain men exploring these areas and living on the land or Lewis and Clark making their way West or the Indians who believe their people have lived in and around the Park forever.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Little Spaces...

I think everyone wonders how David and I are doing living in the small confines of a a 19-plus-foot trailer. The short answer is surprisingly well. Really, so much of our time is spent soaking up each and every minute outdoors, it doesn't seem anything other than cozy, at least that's my take. I don't think David would disagree, either. It is certainly more substancial than our tent and I have to admit that having a bathroom inside it a BIG plus- O.K. you can call me spoiled! At any rate, we are managing quite nicely. I have learned to cook with just three pans; a saucepan, iron skillet and a covered corningware dish. David and I have both agreed, that living in this fashion underscores the whole idea that we (and most of our society)could get along just fine with a whole lot less.

Entering 'Big Sky' Country

Leaving Teddy Roosevelt National Park, we moved into northern Montana. The landscape changed yet again. We saw fields and fields of chartreuse-colored crops which we learned was safflower. It was a nice contrast against the deep green clusters of trees scattered across the farmland. There's nothing like traveling the backroads of our beautiful country because it gives you the ability to take more in and get a clearer picture of everyday life. We traveled through Indian reservations so desolate you almost can't believe you are still in the United States. We knew we were not going to make it to Glacier National Park, so we stopped at a campground near Fort Peck Dam, one of the largest earthen dams in the U.S. We arrived to 95-degree temperatures and not enough electricity to run our air conditioner. To say that I was "not a happy camper" would be an understatement. Interestingly enough, it was windy and once the sun went down, the mercury did too and sleeping was "a breeze." (Bad pun intended)


We decided to travel from eastern North Dakota and drop down southward to take in the Theodore National Park. What a good decision that turned out to be. The park lies nestled in the badlands, which have their own austere beauty, and it had a camp ground which was fairly centrally located. We found a nice spot tucked in toward the back and got set up. The campground was only half filled and we found out from the park rangers that the south side of the park, some 50 miles away, was filled. We drove around the park along the 14-mile road which is a great way to see a lot of it and were amazed at the numbers of bison. It seemed as though they were everywhere and they didn’t seem to be fazed by people in the least. As we hiked along the trails, I could certainly see why President Roosevelt was captivated by this place and chose to start a cattle operation here as a young man. To climb high on a ridge and look over the Little Missouri River gave you an exquisite bird’s eye view. The rock formations, with their varied colorations and shapes, were extraordinary. We were so taken with everything that we decided to spend the next four days there. Of course we began rethinking that decision, when we awakened the next morning and found that one of the bison herds had taken over the camp! They were not a bit shy about walking into a campsite to graze or take a nap---it was quite the sight! Another enjoyable hike found us in the middle of a prairie dog town. These cute little creatures are nearly as curious about you as you are about them, but if you get too close, the males sound the alarm with a series of short “barks.” The park, particularly the northern section, is a little ‘off the beaten path’ but we would highly recommend you plan to visit and spend several days there if you can. It has been one of our favorite places to date.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Water, Water Everywhere....

Because we decided that the best way to enjoy this trip would be to drive no more than 300 miles per day, we stopped in Lake Winnesota, northeast of Eau Claire, WI. Wisconsin is truly a beautiful state with rolling farmland and neat-as-a-pin big red barns. Nearly every town boasted signs advertising fresh produce, so naturally we did our part to help the local economies. After David did some research we decided to head to Voyageur’s National Park near International Falls, MN. So the next day we took off, making an exception to our rule and putting in a full day of driving. We arrived to cooler temperatures than we’d yet experienced and I was ruefully pondering my wardrobe choices when packing for this trip. We found that Voyageur’s National Park is made up of many waterways, and there are very few places to tent camp, let alone bring in a camper, so we opted to set up at a private campground. Rainy Lake on the western edge of the park certainly lived up to its name and the temperature reflected the cool front that moved in. The visitor’s center was very well done with great taxidermy of the local wildlife and a thorough history, including a wonderful Canadian-produced film on the French Voyageurs used the waterways during the height of the fur trade. We were hoping to hop a boat and go on a guided tour of the park, since that is the most highly recommended way to see it, but the weather didn’t cooperate.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Reflections on Mirror Lake

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Leaving Oshkosh, we headed over to the Wisconsin Dells because I had remembered visiting there as a child. It is a lovely place in its natural beauty, but the main street which reminded me of the “76 Strip” in Branson, was inundated with tourists. So we opted to camp at Mirror Lake State Park about 10 miles out . It was a beautiful spot with nice hiking trails and a picturesque lake – a perfect place to relax after the crowds at Oshkosh. Because we were further south than we wanted to be, we left the next day and headed north once again.

And Daddy Makes Three...

We arrived in Oshkosh, WI, mecca for pilots and air afficianados, for AirVenture 2009. What an experience! With an expected crowd of 500,000, the campgrounds alone were a sight to behold. We arrived on day two of the show and were still put out on “the back forty”-an open field and sandwiched between fifth-wheel trailers, tents and camping vehicles of every kind. We were lucky to have neighbors that we really enjoyed-five couples who frequently travel in a fifth-wheel caravan. Veteran campers, these folks imparted wisdom to both David and myself on everything from cooking to more efficient distribution of propane. My dad, Gary, flew up to Milwaukee the next day and David and I drove down to pick him up. He had his choice of sleeping on the pull-out couch or in the tent, which we had packed just in case. He was as excited as a kid in a candy store. Dad had been in the Air Force as a flight engineer, so it was a special treat to see the airplanes, especially the “warbirds.” Because our trailer was about a mile and a half from the air show, we walked a lot the first day and that tired us all out. Fortunately, we remembered the bikes and they became our main mode of transportation. There was so much to see at the air show; vendors selling equipment and airplane parts, airplane manufacturers with swanky tent showrooms offering the latest aircraft models and airplanes everywhere. From the Air Bus which holds over 800 people down to the smallest one-seater experimental ultra lights—I think during our four days, we must have seen them all. As amazing as all the aircraft were, the variety of campers could rival them. We saw everything from the million-dollar motor coaches to homecafted plywood boex set into the bed of a pick-up. One could certainly appreciate the resourcefulness reflected in some of these creations.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Pretty as a Peninsula....

Because we had purchased tickets to the Osh Kosh AirVenture air show, we only had a few days to get into Wisconsin and David wanted me to see Door County on the peninsula. I’m so glad he did as it was just as pretty as he had described. We spent one night on the western shore of Green Bay and then traveled through the city of Green Bay and up to Peninsula State Park in Door County. Both David and I agreed it was one of the nicest state parks we’ve ever experienced. Located near the community of Fish Creek, the park is about halfway up the peninsula, so you can drive to many of the charming towns that comprise Door County quite easily. We enjoyed our bikes especially on the 10-mile bike trail which led to an old light house. The weather was finally sunny and in the 70’s and we got to camp right on the bay. Door County was in the height of cherry season so of course we couldn’t leave without buying some along with a freshly made pie, a dozen ears of corn and a quart of red raspberries. Needless to say we felt like we’d hit the produce jackpot.

Little Camper in the Big Woods...

We camped at Straits State Park for a couple of days and then made our way north to Tahquamenon (pronounced like phenomenon) Falls. Beautiful forest land surrounds you and we found it a nice hike to the upper and lower falls. The park service has done an exceptional job of providing boardwalks that are handicap- accessible, nice bathrooms and great maps to help you navigate. We then moved on toward the west, trying to travel along the road along Lake Superior. Fortunately, we stopped at a visitor center in Grand Marais and found that the road was closed but we could camp near the water in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. What a gorgeous place that turned out to be! Beautiful wide sandy beach and wooded campsites in a quiet, secluded area was our version of outdoor heaven. Of course we found just the perfect site; level, plenty of space, even a nice little boardwalk that led directly to the bathroom. That was until we found out it was for handicapped campers. Again, we had made a frightful camping faux pas by missing the little blue marker. No harm done our camp host assured us and we promised to move should someone need the site. There was no electricity or water at this site, so I was a little nervous, but the camper’s refrigerator automatically switches to run on propane when the electricity is off. (The fridge and its design is one of the camper’s best features.) David bought two generators before the trip, but many places only allow you to run them during daytime hours.

Food, Glorious Food...

To really get to know an area and its people…you need to sample its food, particularly if it’s homemade. One of the most frequently advertised items on the bill of fare at local eateries in the U.P. are pasties. Of course, I mispronounced this savory dish, which is said to be of Finnish origin and sent one of natives into fits of laughter. He said it was a little meat pie, not something frequently associated with scantily clad exotic dancers. We found out that one of the best spots to obtain this delectable delight was at the local combination meat market-cafĂ©-gas station. We picked up our pasties which were already baked and popped them into the microwave (yes, our camper has this modern convenience) and they were very tasty. Although the crust was a little tough, the pie was generously filled with root vegetables including rutabaga, tender beef and gravy. So well did we enjoy this local treat that we stopped at the home of a woman who was advertising hers along the road side. I felt a little odd about going down into her basement kitchen where she prepared her baked goods, but she seemed so friendly, so anxious… and besides I knew David was sitting out in the truck so I followed her down the dank concrete stairwell. She explained that her recipe was handed down from her 90-year-old mother-in-law. I picked out two of the pies, she wrapped them up and was so pleased that I had stopped by, I felt guilty for ever having had visions of Sweeney Todd’s Mrs. Levitt character and the questionable contents of her pies.

Of course fish is a mainstay of the U.P. folk and we frequently picked up sections of smoked trout or whitefish. It is absolutely delicious and easy to find in both restaurants and markets. We also kept on the lookout for fresh produce. Although being so far north, most of what we found was brought in from lower Michigan. Still, we feel that we’ve been dining like kings.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Onward and U.P.ward...

After the zany first night, things indeed got easier. We headed on to Maumee Bay State Park in northern Ohio and found a delightful camping experience. Of course being on the water was a big plus, but it was very open and you had the feeling you were camping in a big meadow. We really put the bicycles to good use and covered a lot of ground in this very spread out park. Of course, we accidentally left our folding outdoor chairs behind as we jockeyed for space when loading the bikes, but so far it has been worth it. (We have since picked up a couple of new outdoor chairs so we can sit in comfort by the campfire.)The next few days were spent in Bay City, MI with David's childhood friend, Doug Cummings. Doug and his wife, Joan, graciously entertained us and allowed us to do some much needed laundry. We enjoyed the visit and getting to see their beautiful daughter-in-law, Lisa and grandsons,Connor and Aidan. After getting our leaking sink repaired, we were off to Mackinac Island and the Upper Penninsula or the "U.P." as the locals say. We brought rainy weather with us and much cooler temps challenged our clothing choices from available wardrobe.
Mackinac Island is a magical exudes charm from the horse-drawn carriages, wagons and taxis to the colorful flowers, sherbet colored Victorian houses and sweet churches. Truly it is a photographer's dream as there are photo ops everywhere. David and I paid to take a peek at the Grand Hotel (the setting for the movie, "Somewhere In Time")and it certainly lived up to its name.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Trailer for Sale or Rent....

Before the crack of dawn, we were heading out from St. Louis enroute to Batavia, Ohio, near Cincinnati, to pick up our new mobile home and thus begin our great American Adventure. Perhaps it was due to sleep deprivation or suppressed childhood memories of living in a trailer, but when we pulled into the RV dealership and saw our camper with the word “Edge” emblazoned across the side, I should have taken note as it seemed to foreshadow the days ahead. Taking notes was definitely in order as our 400-pound salesman barked out instructions in military double-time. When we moved inside the camper as a thunderstorm came through, the whole rig was in jeopardy of tipping to one side, so we did a hasty ‘weight re-distribution’ and averted disaster. Of course our hefty salesman made it all look so easy and assured us we’d “get the hang of it” so with a double thumbs-up and a big fat check in hand, he waved good-bye. I swear I think I saw him mouth the word “suckers” to the service manager in our rearview mirror as we drove away.

First stop was an hour’s drive northwest of Cincinnati to Hueston Woods State Park. It was a densely wooded, seemingly tranquil environment, but as we approached the gate and were greeted by a woman in a Santa hat and her husband driving a golf cart trimmed in giant candy canes, I knew we were in for trouble. She cheerily directed us to our camp site which was to our amazement filled not only with every imaginable holiday decoration and accompanying lights, but children in every size. It seemed as though we had apparently selected the “Disneyland” option on our camp site reservation and bypassed the “peaceful, secluded, nothing but the sounds of nature in all her glory” choice by mistake. However, a bigger hurdle lay ahead as we attempted to park the camper and get it unhitched for the very first time. David backed in, I tried giving hand signals which he couldn't see and in the ensuing frustration, resulted only in my wanting to give him the ultimate "hand signal."
As we got the trailer lined up on the site, getting it loosened from the truck was
looking like an impossible feat. At this point, I was wondering how quickly we could get this thing sold on E-Bay...
After prodding, and kicking and cussing aplenty, a group of neighborly guys came over and gave us a hand. And, so we were ready to set up for our first night of our "adventure."