Alberta

Entering Canada it turned rainy and very windy for the drive up to Calgary. For a change of pace I decided to stay a couple of days in Calgary at an Airbnb place. I found a room in a townhouse on the NE side for $45US per night. My host Brandi is a flight attendant/musician; she was attending flights when I arrived and let myself in with a combination, then later that evening she came home, changed, clothes, and was off to the Calgary FolkFest. It was very nice, I had the run of the townhouse for the weekend.

First night I relaxed in the incredibly comfortable bed and enjoyed fast internet for the first time in awhile. Next day it was off to Tim Horton’s for a late breakfast, hit the ATM for some Canadian currency (when did it change to plastic money?) got some of the dirt off the Land Cruiser at a car wash and took a little tour of Calgary. Back to the townhouse and did some laundry while watching a movie. Had an excellent margherita pizza at 4th Spot Kitchen and Bar then made some reservations for the National Parks camping. I’ve found that in the middle of summer you can’t just show up at a National Park and expect to find a campsite available.

Off to Banff NP, only about a 90 minute drive from Calgary but it’s pretty  busy for a Sunday afternoon. Long lines to pay the park entrance fee then more lines to check in to the campground.

Went to the town of Banff and walked around, nice but crowded.

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On a scenic drive through nearby lakes

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Next day on the Ice Field Parkway to Jasper NP. Stopped at Lake Louise

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All of the people lined up at the Lake Louse picture spot

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The parkway is very scenic, it’s like this for the whole 3.5 hour drive.

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Further along the parkway, a short but steep hike leads to the toe of the Athabasca Glacier

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Visited the town of Jasper, much smaller and not as touristy as Banff.  As I was sitting at the campsite reading after dinner, two caribou came walking through the camp right past me. This one stopped for a few seconds and watched me before continuing through.

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Leaving Jasper I decided to stop at Miette Hotsprings. It’s a 23km detour up a very twisty mountain road but I have always wanted to soak in a hot spring. When I get there it turns out that you don’t jump into the actual hot spring, there are some swimming pools that are fed by the hot springs. There’s a large shallow one and a smaller deep one. Today’s water temp is 104F. They also have two small deep pools filled with ice cold water behind the hot spring pools, so you can go back and forth between steaming hot and icy cold. It was pretty relaxing.

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Montana

Escaping Yellowstone through West Yellowstone into the Gallatin National Forest, I stopped at the first NF campground which turned out to be full. They had directions to the next NF campground going north which was Rainbow Lake campground. I pulled in and after circling the campsites found one open. The camp host pulled up after a few minutes and said “Congratulations, you’ve got the last spot.”

Picture of me with the Land Cruiser for Elliot

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Next morning I drove to Bozeman MT for lunch.It’s a decent sized town with a real downtown of several blocks, but no one there seems to understand the concept of parallel parking. I guess because it’s the only parallel parking spots for a few hundred miles in any direction. I pulled up past an open spot, flicked on the turn signal, shift into reverse and BAM there’s somebody pulled up right onto my rear bumper. They’re looking at me like what are you thinking? I gave up on that spot, the person behind me pulled around and I went on down the block looking for another spot. Pull up, turn signal, reverse, BAM somebody else right up on my rear bumper. Finally got a spot on the third try. It’s a nice downtown, a little touristy but not too precious.

Plenty of driving time after lunch so I set my sights on Helena. Spent the night in the Helena RV Park/Campground. It used to be a KOA but now it’s a full time trailer park with some areas for tent and RV camping. A little sketchy but it had wifi and hot showers. There were a bunch of kids who lived in the ex-KOA office who spent the whole day playing with a sprinkler. Apparently that was all they had, no bikes, iPhones, skateboards just a hose and a sprinkler for 6 hours. The three who got yelled at the most by their moms were Tater, Bubba, and Miley.

Next morning continued north to Glacier NP. Passed through Choteau which has to be the quintessential American small town. A real downtown with a Roxy theater, diner, gas station, grocery store, no precious art galleries or craft breweries. No boarded up storefronts. It’s the kind of place I’d like to move to someday when I’m tired of traveling.

Pulled into Glacier NP and all campgrounds are full. They advised trying one of the myriad private campgrounds just outside the park. I went to the KOA and although they initially said they were full they ended up giving me a group campsite and for the second time in three days said “Congratulations, you’ve got the last spot.” It was mid afternoon so rather than battling the crowds in the main section of the park I drove north to Many Glacier and took a hike through the lakes. Nice views.

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Next day I headed into the main entrance early to beat the crowds. I drove to up Logan Pass, right on the continental divide. Took the Highline Trail hike, 12 miles mostly above the tree line.

Just about a mile in were some bighorn sheep. They were kicking rocks down onto the trail.

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Met a marmot along the trail

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Great views all along the trail. Right along here someone coming in the other direction said there was a grizzly bear with a cub down below, she had her bear spray out and was clutching it tightly in one hand so I took her seriously. Kept my eyes and ears open but  I didn’t see anything. People are on edge about bears as someone was killed by a bear in the park a couple weeks ago and they haven’t found the bear yet.

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Made it to the Granite Chalet at 8 miles and had lunch looking out across the mountains. It reminded me of the tea houses in Nepal, just a little place with bunk beds and a kitchen way up in the mountains.

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Then four miles straight down through scrub and brush to the road where I caught the shuttle back to Logan Pass. The whole way I was thinking this would be the perfect place for a bear to jump out at me.

Next morning off to Canada, it’s only about 30 miles north of here. At the border I waited 15 minutes in line for the customs booth, then they decided they wanted to search my car so I got to pull off into the customs shed. Two guys spent 30 minutes going through all of my stuff, then with a clean bill of health I was off into Canada.

Wyoming

The weather has been great from the Black Hills into Wyoming. Every day is high 70s/low 80s, no humidity, no bugs, just a few puffy white clouds floating in the sky.

I was going to drive straight to the Bighorn National Forest but saw the sign for Devil’s Tower and went there first. Got a nice campsite in the park next to the tower and went out for a hike to the Visitor Center and then around the base of the tower.

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Spent some time watching climbers, there were a lot on different routes around the tower. As you’re hiking around it you can hear them yelling out climbing terms like “On Belay!”  “Rope!” and  “Who’s got my cheese sandwich?”. At night there were some climbers camped on a ledge halfway up, I could see the light of their headlamps. Must be a great view.

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I drove to the East side of Bighorn National Forest and took a forest service road up near one of the trail heads leading into the mountains. National Forests allow “dispersed camping” where you just take a gravel road away from anything else and set up camp somewhere off the road. Cost is $0. Unlike state and national parks, they allow dogs running loose, firearms, 4 wheelers, pretty much anything but fireworks due to the fire danger. Everybody seems to be having a great time. I hiked a few miles up to Sherd Lake at 8725′. There were a few people swimming but it was really cold, I just went in up to my knees.

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Next morning I woke up and there was a high school cross country meet running past my campsite. They started at the highway, ran several miles up the gravel road to the trail head then back down to the highway.

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I drove over the pass to the west side of the national forest and found another dispersed campsite, this one much higher up at 8900′. Took a hike up to Mirror Lake at 9800′ where I could start to feel the altitude a little.

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Dark clouds started rolling in while I was enjoying the view at the lake so I scurried back down to my campsite where a couple of thunderstorms rolled through about an hour after I got back. Due to the altitude it got quite cold at night, I had to put on an extra blanket. Not sure how cold exactly but the next morning at 9:00 it was sunny and 54.

Continued west to Cody WY where I had my first mail shipment from Florida waiting at the Cody post office under general delivery. It was like Christmas morning, I got my new passport with 52 blank pages, international driving permit, the correct locking outlet for my fridge, some checks, and a bunch of other things that have piled up over the past few weeks. I stopped at Ace Hardware to pick up some wire to finish the fridge wiring and grabbed some lunch. It was getting on into the afternoon so I checked in at the Cody KOA. After 3 days with no amenities it was nice to have showers and toilets, wifi, swimming pool, laundry, etc. I completed the wiring and now have a 12V cigarette lighter outlet at the rear in addition to 2 USB charging ports, so I can plug the inverter in to charge my laptop when the car is off.

Early next morning off to tour Yellowstone.

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Artist Paint Pots video

I was most of the way around the loop, coming up to Old Faithful, when traffic came to a stop and stayed stopped. They had warned about construction (why in the height of the summer instead of spring or fall?) but this was beyond slow. I moved about 15 feet in 20 minutes. I asked a guy on a motorcycle who was coming from the opposite direction how long it was and he said it’s miles, you’ll be here for a couple of hours!!! That settled it, I had planned on leaving the park through the south exit and continuing on to Grand Teton and Jackson, but had no interest in spending the rest of the afternoon in a traffic jam. I made a U turn and backtracked a few miles then exited the park out the west entrance into West Yellowstone and Montana.

 

 

Black Hills

Next stop is Custer State Park in the Black Hills. It’s a very nice park but like most state parks the fees are crazy. $21.30 for a tent campsite, not bad so far. Then $7 for non-resident reservation, sales tax, tourism tax and it’s up to $30. Then when I show up at the park it’s another $20 entrance fee.  After settling in to camp I take a drive around the wilderness loop to see the wildlife.

Prairie Dogs, this one was just sitting on his butt next to his hole while the other one was rubbing his back. He must be Mayor of Prairie Dog Town.

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A few deer, one big bison sitting by himself next to the road, and an antelope.

 

Next morning, back on the wildlife loop looking for herds of bison. Found one smallish herd.

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and tons of antelope and deer were out in the morning. I took a forest service unpaved road up into the bison grazing area, nice drive but no more bison.

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Leaving the state park I found a campsite in the Black Hills National Forest, finally made a campfire

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I went into the nearby town of Custer for some dinner.  After dinner I walked down Main St and there was a couple playing music in a small amphitheater in the town center. At first I thought they were random people playing for change, but they had a large poster of themselves and a PA set up. The music was so terrible I thought it was some kind of satire but everyone in the audience was tapping their feet and applauding each song. They mentioned that they had been married for 24 years and has been playing music for much of that time The guys’ guitar was out of tune and he kept mangling chords while singing out of tune. They were playing 60’s folk songs and the woman also sang out of tune and with odd phrasing of the lyrics. I kept waiting for her to whip out a tambourine or a cow bell but they probably save that for the finale. I had to leave after 10 minutes or so.

Badlands

On the way out of Mitchell I stopped at the world famous Corn Palace. I had driven past it before  but never been inside. It turns out it’s a basketball stadium with a corn trinket flea market on the basketball floor when no games are going on.

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Crazy wind on the way to the Badlands, stopped at the Minuteman Missile historic site on the way in. Some really interesting exhibits from the 60s thru the 90s when they were decommissioned.

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then when I got to the campground it must have been blowing 30+ mph all afternoon. People were really struggling to put up tents, one family with a small kid across from me spent 2 hours trying before giving up and waiting for sunset when the wind finally died down somewhat.

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Next morning I took the scenic drive through the Badlands, went on a couple of short hikes before it got too hot.  Saw a bunch of prairie dogs and a bighorn sheep

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Half way through the drive I saw a dirt road marked “4WD High Clearance” that went up past a prairie dog down and decided to see where it would go. According to the map it led up to I-90 at the Minuteman missile silo which I wanted to see anyway, so I gave it a try.

It was mostly through the grass but at one point went up and through some of the Badlands formations

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and a couple of very muddy spots. After an hour of offroad driving I came out onto pavement at the missile silo. Most of these were blown up and buried in 1993 but this one was saved as an exhibit. The silo door is partly slid back with a skylight window where you can look down into the silo and see the deactivated ICBM.

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I had to stop in at Wall Drug but managed to get away without buying anything.

Next morning I went on a more challenging hike to The Notch. It’s not very long but the trail guide says people with a fear of heights should not attempt it. You have to climb a log ladder up a bluff

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then walk along some ledges with a decent drop to the side. It wouldn’t be bad except the bluffs are so soft it’s barely stone so everything is covered in loose gravel on top of the smooth rock.

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South Dakota

It’s been a busy few days. Kelsey complained that she didn’t get an official goodbye so I went up to Chicago from Starved Rock for the afternoon. We hit Eataly for pizzas then a stop at Molly’s Cupcakes.

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I decided to go NW towards Badlands SD on I90, leaving Chicago in a pretty good thunderstorm I continued on along I90 to Madison WI and stopped at a Walmart. This one already had several RVs overnighting in the parking lot so I didn’t feel too weird pulling in and popping up my tent.

Next morning I continued on I90 stopping in at the Wisconsin Dells and ending at Mill Bluffs State Park.  It has a lake with a nice sand beach

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unfortunately just as I was about to go for a swim clouds rolled in and it got quite chilly. Due to the surrounding bluffs cell and data reception was very spotty.

Next morning I hiked up to the top of Mill Bluff and found an excellent view along with cellphone reception

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It seems a little much to go up 235 steps every time you want to send a text but I guess the pioneers were made of sterner stuff.

Leaving Wisconsin for Minnesota I crossed the Missippi River

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Then continued on to Myre-Big Island State Park outside of Albert Lea. Not a bad spot but bugs were bad at sundown, lucky I have 98.3% DEET left over from Africa. There was a guy in a Tiny House in the campsite behind me, it was kind of lumpy looking like he made it himself after downing a six pack

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Quite a big thunderstorm that night and rain well into the morning. I just stayed in the rooftop tent reading a book until there was a break in the rain, then packed up and headed for South Dakota.

Driving through a lot of rain and big winds I arrived at the Mitchell SD KOA. For those who don’t know Mitchell is home to the world famous Corn Palace. I’m planning a visit tomorrow then on to the Badlands.

 

 

On the road at last

Saturday was a big day, finally moving out. I took the first trip down the 3 flights of stairs to the parking lot at 7:00am and the last at 11:30pm. Added trim pieces to the rear drawers and finished the rear power. Two round trips out to Naperville and Westmont to take care of the last of my stuff then loading everything left into the Land Cruiser. Big sigh of relief when it all fit, barely. I was backing out of the lot for the last time when my downstairs neighbor came by with her dog, asking “Is this it? Are you leaving for good?” I said yes and she wished me luck and gave me a big hug. Not a bad way to set off on a big journey.

I finally stopped in at Kuma’s Corner and devoured an Iron Maiden burger, then headed off to the suburbs. First night sleeping in the rooftop tent at a Walmart in Naperville, then spent the morning with Lisa and the wiener dogs. Set out for Starved Rock in the afternoon and wound up at the Cozy Corners campground just outside Mathiessen State Park.

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I ended up staying there for 4 days, relaxing in between repacking the truck and running errands. Everything fits much better now that I’ve got it somewhat arranged but there is still room for improvement.

Here is the storage setup in the back, 3 drawers and a slide out for the fridge/freezer. I am going to cover it in gray cloth for a more finished look, everybody sees the raw plywood and screw heads and says “Oh you made those yourself.” On the right side are USB and cigarette lighter power outlets.

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The fridge slides out for easy access, it’s at the exact right height for me to see and reach in.

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The slide and all of the drawers have heavy duty full extension sliders that lock in and out, good when parked on a grade. This is mostly the kitchen drawer with the office in the back.

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Behind the front seats I have tools, spare parts, backpacking and climbing gear on the bottom then clothes in duffel bags on the top. On the far side are 2 5 gallon jerry cans for water. This pile should get smaller over time.

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Inside of the tent. There is a light and fan on the top along with storage space. The sheets, pillows, comforter all stay in there when it’s closed. When I pull in somewhere I just pop the tent up, attach the ladder and I’m all set. There are screened windows all the way around which give great ventilation.

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The falls and canyon at Mathiessen State Park

 

Council Overhang, where American Indians used to hold meetings out of the rain

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