After finishing three awesome weeks in Yellowstone National Park, Julie and I start the drive east to Wisconsin.
But there are several stops along the way. We spend two days in Grand Tetons NP, where the spiffy new IO header photo comes from! (If you’re reading this through e-mail and haven’t seen it yet, it’s up on the website, YouTube, Patreon, and Facebook.)
Julie wakes up early in the morning the second day to catch the sunrise, but my blistered foot is still hurting so I opt for more sleep.
The day after that, we pull into Devil’s Tower National Monument. This is the first time I’ve seen it since I was a teenager. Time is limited so we don’t walk all the way around it, but we do go up to where the boulder fields start.
We keep driving, and that night end up at one of my favorite boondocking sites: Buffalo Gap National Grassland just outside Badlands NP. A storm followed us east across I90 and it gifts us with incredibly close lightning strikes and a simply brilliant sunset.
Also on this day, Bertha’s odometer rolled over to 200,000 miles, go Bertha!
The next day we explore the Badlands, doing many of the little hikes. It’s getting later in the summer now and many of the flowers are already gone, but this one looks pretty good!
We drive out on the dirt road to where the bison herd is usually found. No bison, but I do catch a picture of a burrowing owl! We actually see a family of them, two adults standing guard and three chicks poking their heads out of a hole.
The day ends with dinner at the first National Park job I ever held – Cedar Pass Lodge. The Indian Taco is still as huge and delicious as I remember. I recommend splitting one between two people, unless you both have a really big appetite.
The next day finds us driving past the town of Sioux Falls, so I decide to stop in person to pick up my mail from my mail forwarding company and place of (legal) residency, Dakota Post. There’s RV parking up front and we’re greeted by a friendly receptionist. This is the first time I’ve visited Dakota Post in person, and I’m very happy with my experience. I even get to peek back into the mail room, it’s big and impressive.
That night we stay at a Walmart, and the next day we arrive in Wisconsin, where I drop Julie off at her home in Madison and then continue on to my parent’s place farther north.
I spend all of August in Wisconsin, visiting family and friends.
It’s great catching up with people and seeing what’s changed since my last visit. One such change is quite recent.
A nasty wind storm came through my hometown and several neighboring communities just a week prior to my arrival, leaving much of the area without power for days and with blocked roads and property damage from fallen trees. There was a massive effort to clean up the damage, and power crews came in from all over the state to help. When I arrived, small parts of town were still without power, and there were still plenty of trees down, although all roads and most houses were now free from debris. It was the worst storm the area had seen in decades.
My parents got lucky. They were only without power for three days, and no trees had come down in their yard. Just north of the yard though is a different story. Part of the time I was home, I was helping my Dad clean up this mess and we weren’t the only ones. His chainsaw was just one piece of a choir of buzzing, rumbling, and chopping that rang out over the neighborhood.
My focus this month is on work and quality time, but because this is me, of course I get out for the occasional adventure.
There’s a family trip to Duluth, Minnesota on the western tip of Lake Superior, where my parents, brother, and I stay in a hotel on the waterfront and watch the large cargo carriers come and go from the balcony.
We spend three days there enjoying all Duluth has to offer.
Later in the month, there’s a day trip to Pewit’s Nest State Natural Area that I lived near for years and never went to see before.
And another day trip, to Governor Dodge State Park, which I have visited many times before but still have not seen all of.
And lastly, an afternoon at Devil’s Lake State Park, where I get on a paddle board for the first time since Costa Rica (lakes are so much easier than the ocean!). But like usual, I have no photos of this because yeah, water and phones.
And then August is over, and the open road beckons once more.
Sept 3, Tuesday
It’s the day after labor day, which in the full-time RV community is often call “Nomad Liberation Day”. The crowds have thinned, the busy season is over, and it becomes much easier to stay in parks without reservations. Basically – a great day to get back on the road!
I say “until next time” to my parents, and hitch up Tribble. At the end of my parent’s driveway I pause for a moment: do I turn left, or right? It’s an amazing feeling, all the possibilities opening up with no time limit to worry about. I do have a destination to get to tonight, but I have plenty of time to get there and whichever way I go, the road will eventually take me there.
I turn right.
An hour and a half later, I realize I’ve forgotten my purse at my parent’s house. D’oh! I feel worse for my parents than I do myself, since I discovered my lack of purse at a gas station where I was going to fill up. I don’t have enough fuel to go back for it it, so they offer to bring it to me.
This is the first time I’ve done something like this in many years, since before I hit the road. But we’re all human. We all make mistakes. And I’d be doing you a disservice if I glossed over this part of the journey. Because you, too, will make silly mistakes while on the road. And it’s important to know that it happens to everyone, and the best thing you can do is learn from them.
My Mom and Dad: Still coming to my rescue at 35 years old. I love them very much. If your parents are still around, I hope you tell them today that you love them too.
The rest of the trip is uneventful.
It’s now later in the day than I was expecting to still be driving, but the sun is shining, the roads are clear, and through the speakers my favorite driving tunes are playing. Life is good.
I pull into the Wisconsin side of Interstate State Park, on the border with Minnesota just before the entry kiosk closes for the day. By the time I’ve unhitched and eaten, the sun is down but that’s okay, I have all day tomorrow to explore.
Sept 4, Wednesday
My site is #39 in the northern loop. It’s one of the few sites in the park that has both river access, and no hookups (thus costing only about $20 a night with taxes and fees). It is quite close to the road though, so if you’re looking for quiet and peaceful, you’ll probably want the southern loop. I’m willing to put up with the noise for two nights for the other perks though. I mean, look at these trees!
I take my comfy chair down the narrow path to the river. It opens to a private, wide rocky shelf, and I spend most of the morning reading my Kindle down here.
In the afternoon, it’s off to try two short hikes.
The first is called Summit Rock, and it climbs up to the top of a rocky bluff overlooking the St Croix River. This is the harder of the two hikes given the elevation gain and rougher trail, but the view from the top is very nice.
The second is a loop around Lake O’ the Dalles (which is really more of a pond). This hike is more level and in general an easier trail. But expect more mosquitoes, being near standing water and all.
This is the perfect first full day back on the road. Sunny and neither too hot nor too cold, beautiful scenery to enjoy at camp, a good book, good hiking, and no crowds. I mostly travel out west to keep costs down by camping for free on public land, but a couple nights at a state park here and there are a welcome and enjoyable change of pace.
Next, it’s onward toward a National Park I have not yet visited!
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