Our second stop in South Dakota was brief. Mike found a municipal campground on a lake in the small town of Mitchell, on I-90 about 60 miles west of Sioux Falls. The price was fairly reasonable, and he could fish… so we booked a reservation. We only stayed in Mitchell for one week. Aside from fishing, talking walks around the lake, visiting the Corn Palace, and making a daytrip to Sioux Falls, there wasn’t too much to do. The park was small, quiet and clean. We spent a lot of time just relaxing after our busy time in Rapid City. Mike also worked on the coach a little bit – doing some washing and other cleaning. The weather was nice and pleasant the whole time, so it was a nice stop on our tour.
When we left Miles City, Montana, we traveled south on Highway 59 and east on Hwy 212 until we hit I-90 to the west of Rapid City. It was an easy drive because the roads were practically deserted. The view of vast brown grassy plains and the wide open sky remained a constant for most of the drive. The highlight of the excursion was seeing the antelope. We must have seen 100 or more pronghorn antelope near the road and across the lands through which we drove.
We stayed at the KOA in Rapid City, which is on the northeast part of town. It was a fairly large campground and it stayed very busy. Most of the guests were travelers just making overnight stops. There were only a few campers like us who were there for extended stays. In our case we were in Rapid City for a total of two weeks. The reason Mike selected this campground for us was because they also had deluxe cabins and we had reserved one for his parents!
A few months ago, Mike had coordinated schedules with his folks and they had planned a trip to fly out to South Dakota and visit us for a week. It was time to get settled in and complete some final preparations for our family reunion! We spent a couple of days doing some deep cleaning, grocery shopping, cooking, and outfitting their cabin with sheets, towels, pillows, and treats for the kitchenette. We finally picked up my in-laws at the airport on Thursday evening.
The Martins had actually lived in Rapid City when they were freshly married and new parents. Mike was a tiny baby. His brother, Pat, was born in Rapid City. They moved here because my father-in-law had gotten a job working with the Minute Man Missile Project near Ellsworth AFB. On several occasions during our visit, they both remarked that Rapid City was the favorite place they lived in all of their years together. It was so much fun to spend time with them in a place that held so many fond memories for them.
Our week together was jam packed with road trips, FOOD, football, and relaxing. We packed a ton of action into those 7 days, and enjoyed every second of them. Since the Martins made the effort to come out and see us on The Lower 48 in 48 Tour, it just might be one of my favorite stops on the entire trip! I’ll let the photos tell the rest of the story.
Our route planning for The Lower 48 in 48 Tour is typically pretty loose. This means we have a general direction in which we want to proceed but we don’t make reservations in specific campgrounds too far in advance. This way we can be flexible as we make our way through the country. The general rules are: north in the summers, south in the winters, from east to west. After that, we make it up as we go. In keeping with the North- in- the- summers, south- in- the- winters concept, our general idea had always been to turn south from North Dakota and start our way down through South Dakota, Nebraska, etc. After Mike started studying the map and the calendar, he decided to swing a little farther west when we left North Dakota. It was still September, so the weather was likely to hold out for a while longer before winter started to set in. Montana is a big state with diverse terrain ranging from mountains to plains. The eastern part of the state is a vast land of grassy plains flanked with a rich native American history. We expect to spend some time next summer in the western part of Montana, but we wanted to see what the other part of the state was like too. We decided to put South Dakota on the back burner for a couple of weeks and visit Miles City. This historic western town had plenty of Indian history along with a proud heritage of cowboys, agriculture and livestock. Plus, Mike could dove hunt for free on public lands… during the times he wasn’t fishing.
Miles City is a legendary western town at he confluence of the Tongue and Yellowstone Rivers. In 1876 Col. Nelson Miles built a Cantonment in the area as a base for battle against hostile Indians in the area. As a result of the military installation, merchants and bar owners started sprouting up to service the soldiers. As the area began to expand with settlers, the soldiers began building Fort Keogh two miles from the original site. Here, many of the free Indians, weary of battle with cavalrymen, would surrender to Col. Miles and accept the reservation lifestyle. Miles City is in Custer County. No coincidence. Custer camped in Miles City only weeks prior to his death 135 miles away in the Battle of Little Big Horn.
We stayed at a KOA Campground. It was small, but nice, clean, quiet and within walking distance to downtown (and to a great fishing spot)! Mike had a great time dove hunting and fishing. I had a great time eating the birds and fish. I spent my time looking at the downtown shops and local museums. Our last two stops had been REALLY cramped, so we spent lots of time enjoying our camp spot again. I read my kindle. We walked the dogs through town. I visited the farmer’s market. Mike had a great time hunting. We had dinner at a couple of downtown restaurants. Mike hit some golf balls at the local golf club. We went to church. It was a nice and peaceful two weeks.
Our second stop in North Dakota was in Medora, an old-west tourist town on I-94 in the southwestern edge of that state, at the gateway to the Badlands. Neither of us knew anything at all about Medora before we got there. As Mike was lining up future reservations for us, he was looking for an RV park west of Bismarck. All of the other parks he looked at were already booked during weekends, so the Red Trail Campground in Medora turned out to be our only option. We are so lucky! I cannot say that the campground itself was in any way spectacular, but the land and scenery around us made up for the drawbacks of the RV park.
Medora was founded in 1883 and is the county seat of Billings County, but it is not really a traditional town. Most of the land and businesses in the center of town are actually owned and operated by the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation. Almost all of the shops, restaurants, and activities in town are owned and staffed by the Foundation. It is a seasonal community. Each year about 600 people from all over the country come to Medora to work for the summer. That workforce is supplemented by another army of volunteers who come to town and spend a week of their time catering to tourists visiting the area. The Foundation also works very closely with the National Park Service, as Medora serves as the gateway to Teddy Roosevelt National Park.
Theodore Roosevelt arrived in Medora for a buffalo hunt in September of 1883 and immediately fell in love with the land. He invested in cattle and soon operated two large ranches, the Maltese and the Elkhorn. His time in the area and his affinity for the Badlands made him the most famous individual to be intertwined with Medora and its history. Harold Schafer, however, is probably the person most responsible for the evolution of Medora into the attraction it is today. Mr. Schafer was a native of North Dakota and a “rags to riches” businessman. He rose to national acclaim as the original maker of Glass Wax, Snowy Bleach, and Mr. Bubble bubble bath. Do you remember Mr. Bubble in the pink plastic bottle? I do! Harold Schafer is the man that established the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation in 1986 and set preservation efforts into motion so that Medora would become somewhat of a living history museum – showcasing the lifestyles and physical environment of the western cowboy era.
We spent two fun weeks in Medora. We visited the museums, shops and restaurants. We also took advantage of most of the other entertainment options available to visitors. When we weren’t wandering around the cute little town, we were in the National Park or on one of the other hiking trails in the area. This was our first exposure to the Badlands and the landscape was gloriously beautiful. I will let the pictures below tell the rest of the story.
Our first stop in North Dakota was in the tiny town of Valley City, about an hour west of Fargo. The City had a 27-spot Tourist Park campground directly on Main Street near downtown. The spots were very narrow but the price was only $18 per day, so the trade off was fine. We were at this spot for three weeks.
A few weeks back, I had scheduled a quick solo weekend trip to Colorado for a getaway with a couple of my lifelong girl friends. We all went to high school in Austin, but Janet and Amy coincidentally both live in Denver now. Mike initially looked for campgrounds near Fargo, but no one could take us during the dates we requested. Valley City had availability, and it was still convenient for me to get to the airport when the time came for my flight to Colorado. Mike drove me over to Fargo on the last Thursday of our stop. He dropped me at the airport and drove back to Valley City. He hung out with the dogs, spending his weekend waxing the Monaco and watching the PGA Championship Tournament on television. On Sunday evening, he drove back over to Fargo and picked me up. The following Tuesday we left Valley City and continued west to the opposite side of the state.
There wasn’t much to do in Valley City, but it was a clean and safe little town of about 6,000. We were able to walk everywhere on our errands. We walked to the Parks & Rec Department, Visitor’s Center, Bank, Library, Post Office, Grocery Market, St. Catherine’s Catholic Church, and the dog park. Mike got a 10-day fishing license and fished on Lake Ashtabula, which was about 12 miles to the north of town. He also fished on the Sheyenne River in town at a little public space near the hospital. There was a nine-hole public golf course on the south east side of town and Mike hit some balls from the driving range on a couple of occasions. I had a nice spa mani/pedi at a local salon in town. We went on a couple of scenic driving tours through the Sheyenne River Valley, and visited Fort Ransom State Park and Little Yellowstone State Park. We drove to Jamestown to get groceries at the Walmart Super Center, because the grocery prices at the market in tiny Valley City were totally jacked up. We also made a couple of daytrips into Fargo. Mike and I took the dogs one afternoon to walk and explore. I went back another time on my own for a haircut at a downtown salon.
Our second Minnesota stop was in Bemidji, in the north central part of the state. Initially we thought about driving south toward Minneapolis/ St. Paul for our second stop in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, but we could not find any stellar RV parks in that area of the state. After several days of researching our options, we decided to stay on a path due west of Duluth and drive a couple of hours to Bemidji – the first city on the Mississippi. We ended up being pleased with our choice. Bemidji was a small quiet town of about 13,000 residents. The town was built on a lake so the scenery was pretty. The downtown was busy with lots of specialty shops and restaurants, there was a state park about 20 minutes away from us, and we were close to lots of trails where we could walk the dogs. The park itself was small, but quiet and clean. We only had 30 amps this time, so we had to be strategic when it came to running the washing machine, air conditioner, hot water heater, and/or microwave. We turned on the generator every morning so I could run a load of laundry. I was very grateful to the owner of the campground for allowing us to do that. Not all campgrounds allow their guests to run generators.
We didn’t take too many daytrips from this stop, but we did make a short drive to Lake Itasca. We wanted to see the headwaters of the Mississippi. Lake Itasca State Park was really beautiful, and it was fun to finally see where the Mighty Mississippi originates. The rest of our time was spent taking advantage of small town Minnesota – picking up produce at the farmer’s market, taking long walks on several state trails, shopping at the mom & pop stores, and wandering around the local art festival on Saturday morning. Mike was able to fish a couple of times and hit golf balls at a nearby driving range. It was a low key and enjoyable two weeks.
We knew our drive from Marquette to Duluth would be a little longer than usual as we drove west along the shores of Lake Superior through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and Wisconsin until we got to our destination at Ogston’s RV Park. We had estimated it would be a little over five hours so we got an early start. (Early, as in we were ready to start the engine at 9:45 instead of 11:00 AM). We have a routine on travel days. As Mike gets ready to start the engine, pull in our slides, and disconnect our power I take the dogs for a last-minute walk. They know it is their last chance to do any business until we get to our next destination, and we are conveniently out of the way when the walls start closing in.
Mike turned the key, the engine started… and then after about 3 seconds it stopped. Hmmm, that was not part of the plan. I thought it would be best to try and be as helpful as possible, so I jumped into action, immediately revising our walking route to make our outing take twice as long. The best thing I could do for Mike while he was trouble-shooting the problem was to be invisible. We work really well together. Piper, Cessna and I walked all the roads of the campground and through some of the wooded trails. We were gone for at least 30 minutes. I figured everything would surely be all settled by the time we made it back to the Monaco. As we approached the campsite the engine was still silent and Mike was in the driver’s seat reading a manual. I continued to be helpful by keeping my mouth shut and diverting my attention on my laptop.
After all of his diagnostics were unsuccessful, Mike got on the phone and called a Cummins engine repair shop in the next town over. Lucky for us, they were able to send out a field-technician within about 45 minutes. When he arrived he hooked up a laptop to our engine and started asking it questions. Pretty soon there was lots of stinky smoke in the air. This, also was not part of our plan. As it turns out a water-fuel separator sensor had gone out. The part was actually installed by Monaco AFTER the engine was built, so it was not critical to operating our rig. The repair man disconnected it for us, started our engine, and assured us we were good to travel. We finally pulled out of the Marquette Tourist park a little after 1PM.
The drive was fairly easy and very beautiful. We ended up arriving into the Superior/Duluth metro area right at rush-hour, but all the traffic congestion seemed to conveniently be in the opposite lanes of traffic. We found our campground with no problems and set ourselves up for our first stop in Minnesota. The campground was small but clean and quiet. There were four small lakes on the property, and Mike was able to fish without a license since they were on private property. He was happy about that. It had been a long and stressful day, so we enjoyed our ‘first-night’ martinis and I made quesadillas for dinner. We both crashed in the bed extra early – eager to put this travel day behind us.
The city of Duluth was lots of fun. The scenery was very pretty, the people were extremely friendly, and we found lots of fun things to do on our outings. We stayed in this spot for two weeks and the only complaint I had was about the water. Brown rusty iron water is not good for drinking, cooking, cleaning, or laundry. (More details about that under my picture from the mine).
When we left Wisconsin, we drove north along the shore of Green Bay until we crossed into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Our destination was Marquette, the most populated city in the U.P. with only about 25,000 citizens. I think I will make it official and say that this was one of my favorite stops on our trip so far! We stayed at a municipal park and campground on the north side of town and the location was perfect! We had access to walking trails in all directions, and we could get almost anywhere in town via a 30-minute bike ride. The town was charming and historic, the natural scenery was spectacular, we were on the shores of Lake Superior, and the people were very friendly. The locals up there are called Yoopers. They are a hearty, durable, and good-natured bunch. I guess you would have to be in order to survive one of their winters! Everyone was extremely active and fit. People were out on the trails walking, running or bicycling regardless of weather conditions. All cars had some sort of sports gear strapped to the roofs (kayaks, bikes, paddle boards). Everyone seemed to be on a quest to enjoy the summer weather at all costs. The weather while we were there at the end of June was cool and crisp. It didn’t get dark until after 10PM. We stayed very busy because there was so much to do and see. To this blog post I am attaching more photos than I have in any other post since our trip began because everywhere we looked we saw something beautiful or interesting.
We left our campground in the middle of the farmers and fields in Milton, drove north and east to Milwaukee, got onto Interstate 43 North, and hugged Lake Michigan until it was time to exit for Two Rivers. This time our natural settings would include forests, rivers and Lake Michigan. We stayed at Scheffel’s Hideaway Campground on County Road O, next to Point Beach State Forest. It was a small and clean campground with nice owners. We were on the outskirts of the little town of Two Rivers so the noise level was low and the night sky was bright. We were at this park for two weeks, and enjoyed our time exploring the sister-cities of Manitowoc and Two Rivers. We took one daytrip a little bit north to Door County, WI, but for the most part we just took advantage of our quaint surroundings and all the natural beauty of the area.
The locals call Two Rivers “Cool City” because the temperatures in summer are always the coldest in the state. If you look at a map, the geography of Two Rivers jets out into the lake and that physical location causes lots of extra weather issues for the community; such as fog, rain, colder air, etc. They say the effect is opposite in the winter, and Two Rivers is generally warmer than anywhere else (until the lake starts to freeze as winter wears on). All I can say is it was chilly during the month of June. We rarely went anywhere without at least a sweatshirt… and we never even thought about having a loungy day at the beach. It was sort of strange for summer, but we didn’t complain. We just kept thinking about how hot it was in Houston, and enjoyed the refreshing temperatures as a novelty at this time of year.
We selected lots of photos to share from this stop too. I’ll keep this narrative brief and let the pictures tell the story again.
Our drive from Sycamore, IL to our first stop in Wisconsin was easy peezy. It was under two hours. We got onto Interstate 90 at Rockford and drove north for about an hour until the exit for the Hidden Valley RV Resort on State Highway 59 between Edgerton (hometown of Pro Golfer Steve Stricker) and Milton, across the street from Lake Koshkonong. We were about 30-minutes south of Madison and a little over an hour south and west from Milwaukee. The closest biggish town was Janesville, a few miles to our south.
The RV Park was very nice. There were about 200 spots, and about half of those were full-time seasonal campers or mini mobile home ‘cabins’. The full time seasonal spots were individually owned, and the rotating spots (like ours) were managed by the campground office. There were plenty of amenities to take advantage of, such as disc golf, pool and hot tub, a snack bar/ restaurant, walking trail, golf carts for rent, etc. We stayed at this spot for 2 weeks. The place was super busy each weekend but things cleared out considerably during the weekdays.
I selected lots of photos from this stop, so I’ll let the pictures tell the rest of the story on this post.