I thought it would be fun to chronicle one of our road trips in a diary format to illustrate how we travel. Our current trip across country from Wyoming to Vermont is typical of the way we travel when we have a destination in mind, and somewhat of a timeline to follow. I say “typical”, but our road trips are definitely more atypical in nature!
When the time draws near to pull up stakes and move on, I start perusing the map a couple of weeks ahead of our departure date to get a rough idea of our route. I might even set up a spreadsheet with destinations each day, that includes mileage and potential camping spots if I’m feeling particularly energetic and organized.
Our route is often determined by the points of interest I want to visit along the way. This is precisely how the start of this trip east evolved. I wanted to be sure to stop off at the Badlands National Park on our way, and in addition, hit some lesser known parks and monuments. I noticed there are several national parks/monuments in the Black Hills on the way to the Badlands, including Mount Rushmore. So, I planned on hanging out in the Black Hills for a couple of days in order to check these parks off my bucket list, and secure passport book stamps!
For this trip, I planned as far ahead as the Badlands, or about 5 days into our trip, which is probably pretty characteristic for us. We never make reservations, and we always remain flexible, altering our route along the way. Our route can change due to weather, traffic, camping options, points of interest – and, on this trip, I think we employed all of these reasons for changing course.
Throughout the narrative, I’ll highlight in orange text what I am labeling “Travel Tips”. I hope you enjoy these tidbits of information! 🙂 There are no great revelations here – just common sense observations about life on the road for us.
September 14, 2017
We left Colter Bay in the Grand Teton National Park , and headed east on Route 26 over the Togwotee Pass through the Bridger-Teton National Forest. We were headed for Route 25 and our first night’s destination of Douglas, WY.
The drive through the Bridger-Teton National Forest was breathtaking, and as we entered the Wind River Indian Reservation, we were flanked to our right by the Wind River Range. I chose the town of Douglas as our first stop for several reasons – it was a manageable 300 miles from Colter Bay, they have a “free” city park camping area, and it’s only a half day’s drive to the Black Hills from there. That would give us a mid-day arrival in the Black Hills, allowing for plenty of time to secure a camping spot the next day.
The Riverside City Park in Douglas is a great place to pull over and dry camp for a night if you are heading east from the Tetons to the Black Hills. I was amazed to learn that they even provide flush toilets, showers for campers and a free dump station. The park sits right on the North Platte River, and it was completely adequate for an overnight stop.
Although the park sits adjacent to a busy road, the traffic quieted down at night. To the left side of the park, there was a township garage and municipal complex which was reassuring. The park advertised regular security patrols, and we felt completely safe here.
September 15, 2017
We left Douglas first thing in the morning so that we could reach our next camping location early in the day, with time to get set up and still have daylight to explore. I stayed in a national forest campground the last time I traveled through the Black Hills, and with Jim’s senior park pass, we prefer to use these campgrounds if “free” options are not available. The Oreville National Forest CG was fairly central to all the attractions we wanted to see, and had pretty good reviews on Campendium, so that was my choice.
Travel Tip #1: I mention Campendium on my resources page. It is one of several websites/apps that I use frequently to find overnight accommodations. My other top choices are Ulitmate Campgrounds Public Campgrounds and FreeCampites.net. I’ve heard good things about AllStays – but it costs money, and I’m too cheap to pay for an app. When the free apps no longer work for me, maybe I’ll try it! I rely heavily on the reviews posted on these sites and this past year, I started contributing reviews as well.
With Jim’s senior pass, our camping fee was $9.00 per night – dry camping only – and that’s within my parameters for a night’s fee. Oreville was a beautiful, small campground. We had daylight overhead so that we could get sun on our solar panels but unfortunately, the sun did not shine too much while we were here! We ended up pulling out the generator each night to be sure our batteries stayed charged since night time temps dipped below freezing.
After getting all settled in, we drove to Mount Rushmore. This campground is only 10 miles from the monument. The Black Hills are known for extreme weather, and unbelievably, when we arrived at the monument we found it completely socked in with fog. I’ve seen the monument on two other occasions so we decided to just visit the Lincoln Borghum Museum here (which is awesome) before heading back to the campground.
September 16, 2017
My plan for our first full day in the Black Hills was to visit both Jewel Cave National Monument and Wind Cave National Park. We planned a loop that would take us first to Jewel Cave, and then to Wind Cave – returning to the campground via the Needles Highway. I had traveled the Needles Highway several years ago, but Jim has never taken this scenic route.
It was interesting to learn about the extensive underground limestone caves in this region, and while both parks offered guided tours only, we were willing to pay for just one tour. We decided to do the cave tour at Jewel Cave, which is reputed to be the third longest known cave in the world. It was a 1 ½ hour tour along a metal walkway that winds up and down through a very small section of the huge cave network. We were as much as 400′ below the ground, and negotiated over 720 stairs on this route. Well worth it! I’m constantly amazed by the natural beauty that surrounds us. Thanks goodness for the visionaries who took measures to preserve these national treasures.
Wind Cave National Park includes not only the underground caves, but a large tract of grassland and forest. Wind Cave is a drier cave, and claims to have over 95% of the world’s known boxwork formations. Boxwork is created before the cave and is revealed when the cave forms – and is classified as a speleogen. Most cave formations develop after the cave due to water flow and are called speleothems – such as stalactites, stalagmites, draperies, etc. Interesting stuff!!!! We enjoyed wandering around the visitor center here, and were planning to do a short hike – but most of the hiking trails were closed due to a recent wildfire. Bummer!
So, we settled for a driving tour and took Route 87 north through the park and then headed up into Custer State Park and towards the Needles Highway.
As we approached the Needles Highway, the darn persistent fog was still evident so we decided it was not worth traveling this narrow, winding road with little visibility! We headed back to the campground for an early dinner, and hoped for some clearing skies so we could once again try to see Mount Rushmore.
Early evening brought clearing skies at the campground, so I called the visitor center at Mount Rushmore to check on weather conditions. I was informed that the fog was lifting up there, and we decided to take our chances and attend the evening lighting ceremony at the monument. I had never seen the monument lit up at night, and I determined that fate had intervened on my behalf to force a nighttime viewing! The stars aligned perfectly, and just minutes before the light switch was turned on, the fog cleared.
It was a very moving experience and one I will remember with reverence. In these troubling times, with such a volatile political climate, to gaze upon these sculptures and what they represent gives me pause to reflect on the future direction of our country. These four great men were intelligent visionaries who cared about equality, conservation, and the principles of our constitution that guide us in our governance. This monument has become “a symbol of freedom and hope for people from all cultures and backgrounds.” It strikes me just how much at odds our current “leader” is with these great men. And, how insanely inferior he is to our past presidents. My hope is that the citizens of this country will look deep into their hearts and recognize that our current administration’s agenda is dangerous, self-serving and contrary to what our founding fathers envisioned. We need true representation in our Senate and House (instead of wealthy, self-serving congressman and senators who push forth an agenda bought and paid for by the wealthy) – and bipartisan cooperation to affect change in policy that brings us closer to the principles for which this country was founded. I have hope that we will once again move in the right direction before too much damage is done. Okay – that’s enough politics for now – just had to say my piece!
September 17, 2017
We planned on two nights in the Black Hills, and stuck to that plan. The Badlands are a short 90-mile drive from the Black Hills, giving us plenty of time to arrive at the dispersed camping spot I was anxious to try in the Buffalo Gap National Grassland. On the way, we needed to find a dump station, and fill up our fresh water tank. Here’s where that Cabela’s Club membership came in handy once again! Right off I90 in Rapid City, there is a Cabela’s store that offers an RV Dump station and potable water fill station. With a club membership, these services are free. Just present your club card at one of the cashiers, and they give you the code for the dump station. Perfect! It sure beats using the dirty, loud and busy Flying J facilities!
Travel Tip # 2: I use a couple of apps for locating dump stations throughout the USA that will allow you to pull in and empty gray and black water tanks – for free or fee. I use rvdumpsites.net and an app called RV Dump Stations Locator. I prefer the former as it seems more comprehensive. There are a few other options including Sanidumps and RVDumps, but I have not used these sites regularly.
We took care of business, then started east on I90 for Wall, SD. I had a pretty good idea how to find the dispersed camping location outside of the Badlands due to some great reviews and directions on Campendium but when we reached Wall, I noticed a sign for the Buffalo Gap National Grassland Visitor Center. It was early in the day, so we detoured over to this visitor center. First, I wanted to ask about the dispersed camping and, second, I wanted to get my passport book stamped!
It turned out to be a very worthwhile stop. I learned about a map app that I had not yet come across in any other blogs, or research. It’s called Avenza Maps, and it includes maps for all our national lands. I was able to download the app right there on my phone, and pull up the map for the Buffalo Gap National Grassland. You can download the map for use offline, and it has a locator so you can use the phone’s GPS to know exactly where you are on the map – helping to make sure that you are camping on public lands, and also that you are on the correct road. I used it to navigate to our dispersed camping spot. Worked beautifully! I love it when I find something so useful!!
In addition to some great help with this new app, the visitor center had a nice exhibit on grassland flora and fauna, and I learned that it is the only visitor center that deals specifically with our national grasslands. I was very impressed with the staff, and highly recommend stopping here and talking with them. I give them 5 stars!!!
Using my new digital map, I located the dirt road we needed to access off of Rt. 240 seamlessly, and we drove around until we found a fairly level spot perched high on the cliff overlooking the Badlands. I could not ask for a better view or location. While this is a popular spot due to its accessibility, we were a decent distance from other campers and everyone respected each other’s’ privacy. We did learn at the visitor center that you can literally camp anywhere in the grassland provided you can get your rig there. When we have more time, we decided we would be more adventurous and scope out some other more gently used areas. The grassland is immense and completely surrounds the Badlands.
We settled in to our spot and then took a long walk along the cliffs. Returning to camp, we proceeded to set up our chairs right on the edge of the cliff and enjoy the sunset with a glass of wine. Perfect evening! I did remark to Jim that perhaps he should not wander out in the middle of the night to water the grass — with the edge of the cliff just feet from our door! 🙂
September 18, 2017
This was an ideal spot to explore the Badlands. We enjoyed a lazy morning watching the sunrise as it spread its magic across the canyons.
We spent the rest of the day road-tripping through the park – stopping at all the overlooks (because Luke said this is what we must do!) and points of interest, engaging in the exhibits at the visitor center, and managing to also get in a few hikes. There are just a few marked hiking trails in the park and most are less than 3 miles round-trip.
Cliff Shelf Nature Trail
Saddle Pass Trail
September 19, 2017
Today marks the beginning of the portion of our trip that is unplanned! We considered staying here another day, but it appeared that some bad weather was moving in (high winds and storms). Sitting exposed on top of a cliff did not seem like a smart idea! We were also still deciding if we wanted to stay on I90 and travel south through Pennsylvania via Dearborn to visit with family, or veer north through Minnesota, Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula on our way to connect with Luke in Dearborn and keep to a northern route. Decisions, decisions!
We were still debating our options and preferences while we started out of the South Dakota grasslands and got underway east on I90. We were a mere 100 miles into our journey and the skies were clear but still, I decided to check the weather up ahead of us. One never knows when foul weather will spring up traveling across the bread-basket states. I was rather surprised to see that there actually was some serious weather a-brewing in eastern South Dakota. These storms had not appeared the evening before when I was scoping out weather conditions along the I90 corridor. Forecasters were predicting seriously high winds, golf-ball sized hail, and the strong potential for tornadoes.
This required some navigation decisions. Airstreams and large-sized hail are not a good combination. I’ve seen Airstreams with serious hail damage. I think in many ways hail worries me more than tornadoes!
Travel Tip # 3: I use NOAA to track weather and also the Storm app. The Storm app has proven to be very useful for predicting where the most severe weather is likely to occur, and it has given us good information on previous trips that helped us stay out of harm’s way. I am constantly tracking weather during our travels, and I highly recommend that everyone do this. We have altered plans and avoided some potential problems more than a few times.
The Storm app was telling me the most severe weather was going to be in a band developing and extending from Chamberlain, SD to Huron, SD and moving east. With that in mind, I started scoping out places we could stop for the day and wait out the threat. Just north and west of Chamberlain along the Missouri River, I found some Corps of Engineer’s campgrounds. Two were listed as “free” and one indicated a fee for electric hookups. Since Jim’s senior pass works at these federal sites as well, we opted for the electric hookup campground since we would be hanging out for much of the day. And, before leaving the next day, we could take advantage of the RV dump station here and potable water fill station. A bargain for $9.00 a night!
We pulled into Left Tailrace Campground located on the Missouri River on the back side of the dam. The office staff person was very welcoming and friendly. This campground appears to be favored by fisherman and boaters due to the Missouri River boat access ramp (and my astute observation that every other camper here had a boat and trailer parked next to their rig!). The sites were not very private but since it’s late in the season we were able to find a location away from other campers.
Travel Tip #4: If you are 62 or older and a US citizen, you are entitled to an Interagency Senior Pass with the federal government. When I worked at a national forest campground last summer, I was surprised by the number of senior citizens who were unaware of this pass. Two of the most important benefits: free access to all federal agency sites including national parks and recreation areas, and 1/2 price on all camping fees at all federal agencies including national parks, national forests, Army Corps of Engineers sites, and recreation areas. The pass costs $10.00 for a lifetime card. I’ve heard rumors that this is going to be increased to $80.00 soon. Be sure to keep the Army Corps campgrounds on your radar screen – we’ve stayed in some nice ones and they are usually not crowded.
It was while we were camped here, presumably out of harm’s way, that the tornado watch appeared on my storm app. The time was late afternoon, and the watch was in effect until midnight that night. This is the precise moment that I start to question my decision to pull off here. We had debated veering south across country to I80 since the weather appeared clear down there, but decided to stay on course and hope that the storm app accurately predicted the location of the front.
We watched the skies until well after sunset. Jim had read a sign posted in the restrooms indicating that sirens would sound in the event of a tornado. While that was definitely reassuring, we were in close proximity to a railroad and every time that damn train whistle blew I literally almost jumped out of my skin! The wind kicked up fiercely after dark, and for the entire evening we noticed a truly amazing phenomenon. The storm was literally just to our east and the skies directly overhead remained clear all night. We watched the lightning and thunderclouds from our relative safe distance and marveled at the accuracy of the storm predictions. At one point, I heard distant sirens (not train whistles!) and wondered what direction the weather was taking there.
We never got a single drop of rain. And, I managed to get a blog post up and published that night since I was too nervous to sleep! The tornado watch was called off just after 10:00 pm, the wind died down, and I was finally able to settle into a sound sleep with the assurance that all was well. The next morning, we heard on the radio reports of ping-pong sized hail, damaging winds, torrential rain and a few potential tornado touchdowns along the corridor to our east.
September 20, 2017
Since we were delayed most of a day due to the weather, we knew our next few days would mean some serious driving. We wanted to get to Dearborn by Friday so we could spend time with our son, Luke, during the weekend. We were also just plain tired of I90 and interstate travel. We made the decision to explore the “back roads” of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan on our way to Dearborn. I checked out some routes that intersected each state and chose my best options.
Just over the state line into Minnesota, Route 23 heads north and east traversing through the heartland of the state. What an incredibly pretty drive it turned out to be! A bonus for me was discovering the Pipestone National Monument in Pipestone, MN. When we exited I90 and headed north, I had noticed the familiar national monument symbol on the map and decided it was just the right place to stop for lunch and take a break. We toured the visitor center, read about how the Native Americans quarried this unique stone for use as pipes, and watched Native American cultural interpreters at work carving the soft, red stone.
I was struck by a quotation credited to Lame Deer, from the Lakota nation:
“All of nature is in me, and a bit of myself is in all of nature.”
He believed that “man’s heart, away from nature, becomes hard; he knew that lack of respect for growing, living things soon led to lack of respect for humans, too.” (from a quote by Luther Standing Bear, Lakota). So very true…….
We hiked the short interpretive trails that wind past the ancient quarries still used today by the native population for acquiring pipestone for their craft.
Jim talked with one of the native carvers for quite a while – discussing such things as chisels, and files and other tools of his trade. This carver was carrying on a tradition handed down to him from his ancestors. He is a fourth-generation carver and sculpts in the traditional way with hand tools only.
We got a little carried away with this beautiful, spiritual place and, 2 hours later, decided we better get going! Since we tarried too long at the monument, it meant we were not on target to reach my initial destination – a free camping spot along the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. I had read that the County O Landing offered 5 dry camping spots on a first come basis. Pulling into a spot like this well after dark was not to my liking, so I consulted my camping apps once again and found a county fairground in Cambridge, MN. We could get there just after sunset if all went well.
Route 23 through Minnesota reminded Jim of the rolling hills of Chester County, PA where we both lived for many years. The difference was the expansive crop farms getting ready for harvest – corn, soy bean, and occasionally, what I thought must be sugar beet fields. I would characterize the farms we passed as the “tidiest” I’ve ever seen! We thoroughly enjoyed this scenic route. There was little to no traffic except when we came to a small town, and even then, traffic was minimal. It was a joy to fuel up in these small towns compared to the hectic pace of the interstate truck stops.
Travel Tip # 5: Get off the interstates when you can and discover the advantages of traveling at a slower pace! You will be surprised by what you find. I remember a trip long, long ago across I80. I was heading east for the summer from college in Boulder, CO and traveling with two friends. One of these friends had just purchased an old VW Bus that she was driving back to New Jersey. She was no mechanic and someone definitely took advantage of her. We made it as far as Russell, Kansas. The engine was shot, and we had to wait a couple of days until the Greyhound Bus came through town. A local family noticed our demise, found us a place to stay and invited us for dinner that night. Their hospitality was touching. The next day, that same family took us on a tour of the countryside around Russell (hometown of Bob Dole, by the way). I was so surprised to see rolling hills, and trees and a huge lake where locals picnicked and swam. They wanted us to see that there was more to Kansas than I80. Like I stated above – get off the interstates!
The county fairgrounds in Cambridge, MN were located on the eastern edge of town. I imagined a place surrounded by countryside but, obviously the town of Cambridge has seen some sprawl and the fairgrounds were actually surrounded by new shopping centers full of big box stores! Do not follow Google map directions when arriving at the fairgrounds. We did and ended up in the parking lot of the big box store next door. Turning off Route 23, take the road to the right in front of the fairgrounds and the entrance gate is on the left. It was just about dusk when we arrived, and there were no signs indicating the camping procedure. We saw a line of pull-through sites and stopped along them to check things out. The fairground website indicated camping rates for both dry-camping or hook-ups and we wanted the dry-camping sites.
I walked along some sites where there were multiple RV’s set up hoping to find a camp host. I did eventually see someone outside and asked about procedure. I learned there is an office as you enter the gate (we had not noticed this – it was dark, after all), and a caretaker who lives in the modular home right in front of the gate. The office was closed, and it did not appear anyone was home. The house was dark. As we left the house and headed back through the gate, we heard someone yelling. The elderly caretaker had seen us from inside his house, and appeared at the side door in a disheveled plaid bathrobe and stocking feet! He was a scruffy old character but not fussy, and told us to camp anywhere and he’d check with us in the morning.
We found a level, grassy spot that did not require unhitching and the night passed uneventful. We never did see the caretaker in the morning. My attempts at ringing his doorbell failed to produce him, so I deposited some money in an envelope and put it in the mail slot on the office door.
While this county fairground was not as quaint and “country” as the one we stayed at in Ohio, I’m still inclined to seek these places out as one-night stopovers when it is an option. As I stated in a previous blog posting, I’m happy to support local county fairs with my camping fees.
September 21, 2017
We got an early start from the fairgrounds for two reasons. We did not have to unhook the trailer – so in effect, we just needed to get in the truck and go. And, we needed to put some miles on the truck to get to the Upper Peninsula by dark. I decided to take Route 8 across Wisconsin since that would put us onto Route 2 across the southern part of the UP. We entered Wisconsin shortly after leaving the fairgrounds. The contrast in the countryside between Minnesota and Wisconsin was dramatic. Almost abruptly, the farms switched from crop farming to dairy and orchards. And, instead of being almost exclusively farmland, there is more diversity in land use in this part of Wisconsin.
Our ritual when we are traveling is simple. Jim must always first have his cup of black tea before he does anything else. I get up first, make the tea for him and then brew my coffee, which I put in my travel mug and save until we are on the road. While he is drinking his tea and waking up, I get the inside of the trailer ready for road travel. Once he finishes his tea, I make him a coffee for the road, and then finally, we are on our way. We stop to fix a quick breakfast after we’ve been on the road a couple of hours. We have settled into this routine and it seems to work for us!
On this particular day, I was getting a powerful urge for a “doughnut” to have with my coffee. About the time we would normally pull over for breakfast, I announce to Jim that I want to find a bakery. Over the past few years, this self-proclaimed baker has virtually given up sugar and sweets. But, every now and then, usually after we’ve been traveling for a couple of days, I get a hankerin’ for a pastry! And, I don’t mean the Little Debbie or Sara Lee variety or even Dunkin’ Donuts. God forbid! I want a real pastry from a real bakery. This is when I love google maps. We are traveling Route 8 and passing through many small towns. I’m convinced there must be a real bakery in these parts – or at least an orchard with apple cider donuts a la Northbrook Orchards in Chester County, PA.
Jim knows I mean business with my “doughnut declaration”. He’s been through this before. And even though he is not a doughnut aficionado, he knows better than to thwart my efforts to find the perfect doughnut shop. To my utter amazement, when I punch in “bakery near me” in google maps I find that the very next town of Barron, WI has a bakery. And, the Google Reviews are awesome! Yes!! This was going to be easier than I thought. Barron Bakery is indeed a real bakery.
Walking into this small store, I am overcome with the smells of freshly baked pastries, bread and doughnuts. What a heavenly treat. I decide on a cinnamon roll for myself, and I buy Jim three plain cider doughnuts as he requested. They have freshly brewed coffee, so I forgo making my own in the trailer, and indulge in theirs. I’m not quite to the $5 minimum I need to use my credit card so I’m forced to also buy a 3-pack of fresh blueberry bagels. My grand total is just over $6.00. Now that’s a bargain! I savored every single bite of that cinnamon roll while sipping on my hot coffee!
After the bakery, the day was fairly uneventful except for our bird sighting. We were driving along through farm country when Jim spotted these massive birds in a field to our right. I watched all summer long for Sandhill Cranes in the Tetons. We heard them near Oxbow Bend, and also on the forest road to Grassy Lake but never saw them. And, here they were, on the side of the road in rural Wisconsin – several Sandhill Cranes up close! Unfortunately, there was no shoulder to pull over so I could not get a photo but that’s okay. Just seeing them made my day!
As I’ve said before, we avoid RV parks and private campgrounds whenever we can while traveling. Our preference is the quiet and solitude of a national forest campground, or dispersed camping. I knew that the Hiawatha National Forest was just on the other side of Escanaba, MI and the distance from Cambridge, MN was about right for a long day’s drive. I used my Ultimate Campgrounds Public app to locate some NF campgrounds here in the Upper Peninsula. There were several choices and I opted for the Little Bay de Noc CG since it was positioned right on the Bay de Noc. I looked the campground up on Campendium to see if anyone had posted a review. Turns out, some folks who write a blog I follow, WatsonsWander (fellow Airstreamers) had stayed here several years ago, and gave a favorable review. That was good enough for me.
We found the campground easily, and chose site # 33. It was open, with few trees, and right on the water. At $9.50 a night with that trusty senior pass, this was a perfect spot and very well-maintained with spacious, private sites. We enjoyed a nice sunset and a good night’s sleep.
September 22, 2017
Today would be our longest travel day for this trip. We had 425 miles to go to reach Dearborn. The trek across the Upper Peninsula on Route 2 was uneventful. The population up here is sparse, and there is quite a bit of national forest land, so the drive was easy – long, straight roads with no traffic. There are spots along the route where the road hugs the coastline of Lake Michigan, and we chose one of these places with a nice scenic rest area to stop and take a break and eat breakfast.
When we were approaching the famed Mackinac Bridge, I started to see signs indicating the toll for the bridge. Uh-oh…..we had completely run out of cash and kept forgetting to find an ATM where I could use my credit union debit card. We were hoping that the toll booths accepted credit cards! We decided to just go for it and pull up to the booth. Lucky for us, they did – not sure how we would have gotten turned around on the bridge!
Travel Tip # 6: What’s in your wallet? Well, there better be some cash! I’m not sure how we managed to get so low on actual cash but we did. I generally don’t like to use debit cards so I’m not real savvy with them, and usually cannot remember my pin. We like the convenience of credit cards for tracking expenses, but when traveling I highly recommend a little bit of cash. We did find that all toll booths on our route accepted credit cards but I’m sure there’s bound to be exceptions.
Once we crossed over the bridge and picked up I75 towards Detroit, the trip got a little boring. I decided to pull out my laptop and get some writing done, and before I knew it, we were close to Dearborn. Our timing was perfect – arriving in the Detroit metropolitan area right at rush hour! Nothing to be done but grin and bear it! Thankfully, we were headed in the opposite direction from most of the traffic! I guided Jim on and off several major highways as we narrowed in on Luke’s place. Luke had assured us that we could park out on the street in front of his house, and we were hoping this was true.
Turns out, he was right! We had to raise up one side of the trailer with 2” boards under the tires to get leveled up (which is nothing really), and we had to disconnect the truck and park it up the street so we would not block anyone’s driveway. Easy! None of the neighbors seemed to notice an 8.5’ wide by 25’ Airstream parked on their street. We did not exactly blend in – but no one cared. 🙂
Luke’s girlfriend Sharon was still visiting while on vacation from her job in Shanghai, so it was a special treat to spend time with her as well. They cooked us up some dinner that night (complete with Sharon’s Asian cuisine and Luke’s homemade Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie) and it was all delicious.
A boyhood friend of Luke’s was also in town for the weekend. Anthony is a freelance artist who specializes in lighting design for theater and stage. He is currently touring with Counting Crows and had a show in Detroit Saturday night. He joined us for dinner, and it was great connecting with him. We shared stories, and talked for hours.
At one point, Sharon started describing some of the work she is doing with virtual reality and augmented reality games. This led to experimenting with some Virtual Reality programs. It was a blast! Anthony really got into tackling this one game, and we enjoyed watching him learn the maneuvers and master the game. I wanted to experience using the VR headset but the game Anthony was playing was more than a little advanced for me! Instead, Sharon hooked me up with a VR tutorial that shows the basics of how to use the hand triggers, move around, and engage in this world. I’ve never been a huge fan of computer games and am often very critical of those who spend too much time engaging in them. It’s always good to keep an open mind, though. I’m glad I gave VR a try. I have gained a new perspective on gaming.
September 23, 2017
The east coast is in the middle of a tremendous heat wave. Temperatures in Dearborn have been in the 90’s and humidity high. It’s been a while since Jim and I have endured this type of weather and I’m reminded why we have been traveling in the west the past year!
Luke planned the weekend for us and it all included indoor, air-conditioned activities. We were all for that! On Saturday, we drove to Detroit and visited the Detroit Institute of Art. It was so refreshing to spend time in an art museum again. I love seeing works by familiar artists, but also enjoy discovering unfamiliar painters.
I was especially happy to discover that this museum houses the room-size mural by Diego Rivera titled The Detroit Industry Murals. Luke was anxious for me to see it. I spent 8 years working among the murals of his Mexican contemporary, Jose Clemente Orozco, at the Baker-Berry Library at Dartmouth College. It was fantastic to see Rivera’s mural and compare his style to Orozco – so similar in many ways. These artists both gained fame during the Mexican Mural Movement that evolved after the Mexican Revolution. Rivera was crafting this mural in Detroit about the same time that Orozco was working on The Epic of American Civilization at Dartmouth – the early 1930’s. Both murals are now designated as National Historic Landmarks.
After leaving the museum, Luke wanted to show us some quintessential Detroit landmarks – including the famed Woodward Avenue. This is Detroit’s “main street” and is representative of Detroit’s historic automobile industry. The avenue was the place to “cruise” and be seen. The Federal Highway Administration has designated it as the Automotive Heritage Trail in the National Scenic Byways Program.
We left the city, and headed back to Dearborn to find a spot for some dinner. We settled on Brome Burger’s in Dearborn. I’m not a huge burger fan, but they had an organic beef option and I settled for the Mexican burger. I can eat anything if it has avocado on it! It was actually a very delicious meal.
I am always attracted to gardens, and the restaurant had an outdoor seating area with a lovely courtyard garden containing a sculpture designed by local high school students to promote multicultural awareness and a sense of community through art. Beautiful!
September 24, 2017
Sharon flew back to Shanghai early Sunday am, and after a leisurely morning, Jim, Luke and I headed off to yet another museum. The last time we visited Luke we toured Greenfield Village with plans to also visit the adjacent Henry Ford Museum. We did not have time for the later, so Luke wanted to make sure we got there on this trip.
The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation and Greenfield Village is the largest museum complex in the United States – interesting fact! Henry Ford’s vision for the museum was to preserve items of historical interest and portray the culture of the Industrial Revolution through his collection of all types of memorabilia and everyday things such as furniture, cars, tools, machinery. The museum exhibits capture the very heart of American life creating a timeline through which we can view the evolution of our country. I was struck by some of the unusual items that Ford managed to procure for his museum.
We spent the entire afternoon in the Ford museum, and by 5pm we were tired and hungry. Dearborn, MI has a significant middle-eastern population and Luke has been enjoying their cuisine. We opted to try out a small restaurant he had yet to patronize that specializes in shawarma, a Levantine meat-based sandwich. Luke thought it would be fun for us to try this since we had never been exposed to it before. I chose the Chicken Shawarma wrap which consists of shredded chicken, a yummy garlic sauce, and pickles all wrapped in taboon bread. It was “out of the world” good. Along with a Greek salad, it was the perfect blend of tastes and spices. And, all for a whopping $10.00 tops.
Travel Tip# 7: Enjoy the local cuisine while traveling whenever your time and your wallet permits. You will be pleasantly surprised by the friendliness of the people and the quality of the food. And it does not have to be a high dollar, white tablecloth kind of place. We have stopped wasting our money at the more expensive establishments and seek out more modestly priced options – often finding them to be better food and a better bargain for our money.
After eating, we survived a hilarious episode in the supermarket. We needed to stop and get a few provisions for our pantry, and Luke also needed a couple of items. Once we had collected our food in the cart, we got in line at the checkout. I realized it was one of the self-checkout stations and decided to change lanes. I’ve always avoided the self-checkout lanes. Luke encouraged us to stay put and “experience” it, so we did. We let Luke check-out first so we could watch and learn. We managed the “watch” part of the lesson but did not “learn”. We just could not seem to get it right. I was scanning the groceries, and Jim was bagging. But, he just could not seem to get the sequence down and kept picking up the bags. The checkout station terminal did not like this. The darn computer kept locking up on us, requiring a person to come over and “unlock” the terminal so we could continue.
This happened multiple times despite Luke’s attempts to explain the bagging procedure to Jim. In all fairness, I kept hitting the wrong button whenever there was a bagging error so I was just as guilty of screwing up. We had a long line of people behind us waiting to checkout, and it was one of those moments when the situation is so absurd that I started laughing at our comic attempt to master this seemingly easy process. And, I cannot stop laughing. I literally had tears rolling down my face, which inspired Jim to start laughing. Meanwhile, Luke is trying to fade into the background and pretend he does not know us. 🙂
September 25, 2017
On Monday mornings, the garbage trucks pick up trash along Detroit Street and all vehicles must be off the street by 9am in the morning. In the early evening the night before, we watch as all the neighbors emerge from their houses, roll out their trashcans and start jockeying their cars into their driveways.
Our plan is to rise early, hook up the trailer and head for the Ambassador Bridge in Detroit. We would get an early start on the day’s drive across Canada and avoid the garbage trucks. A win, win situation for us and them. We left around 7:30 am and expected some traffic delays that never materialized. When we approached the bridge, the traffic pattern was a little confusing. We realized there was a toll for the bridge and the lanes all indicated either you needed a pass, or cash. We could not tell if there was an actual person at the booth or if you just needed to deposit money.
Remember that previous travel tip about making sure you have cash? I had meant to get some cash over the weekend but somehow, I just didn’t get it done. I motioned for Jim to pull over to the side, and I got out of the truck and ran up to the toll booth to scope out the situation. There was indeed a person in the booth and I sheepishly asked if she accepted credit cards. “Yes”, she said. Saved again! I gave Jim the “thumbs up” from the booth and we were on our way.
Going through customs at the border is always interesting for us. For some reason, it usually makes Jim nervous. Maybe he thinks he is going to say something wrong? I’m not quite sure why the anxiety crops up. But, too lessen the pain, we usually actually rehearse what we are going to say in advance to avoid any surprises. Seriously! I wonder if anyone goes to this extreme! You just never know what is going to come out of Jim’s mouth! Sometimes he starts rambling like he has to give his whole life history instead of just answering the question with minimal embellishment. In our confusion over the approach to the toll bridge, I forgot to initiate this pre-border conversation.
We get to the border station, and after the normal questions about citizenship and residence, the guy asks Jim how long he plans on being in Canada. Now, this is where it gets interesting. Withour hesitation, for some reason, Jim blurts out that we will be staying overnight in Canada. I look at him in disbelief. We’ve done this route several times and it is literally a 4-hour maximum drive from Detroit to Buffalo across that little piece of Canada.
I lean forward and inform the customs officer that we are only in Canada for a few hours, and proceed to answer most of the additional questions. When he asked Jim if he knew the license plate number on his truck, I thought we were in for it. He’s never memorized his plate number, and I know this. I quickly spout off the license plate number, and finally the questions cease and we are on our way. I remind myself to rehearse our answers before we reach Buffalo. 🙂
Our destination for the night changed part way through the day. I had planned on trying out a county fairground in New York just off I90. When I realized that it is actually a speedway, I reconsidered and opted for Cayuga Lake State Park. We have camped here before and even though it’s above my nightly fee parameter, we settle on it. We found a nice spot here, fixed some dinner and, since we had electric hookup, we could run our fan all night. It was still oppressively hot, and the fan helped cool down the trailer.
September 26, 2017
From Cayuga State Park, we could have made it to Leif’s house in southern NH this day but we decided to take it easy and do the trip in 2 leisurely days. The morning started out good. We cooked up some egg frittatas for breakfast and charted our route. We chose to avoid I90 once we started east from Buffalo and instead, we drove the scenic Route 20 byway all the way across upstate New York.
While looking over the map during breakfast, I noticed that there is a small town called Amber that sits on a small lake just to the east of the finger lakes. Jim was intrigued by this, and we decided to detour over to the town and check it out.
We were traveling along and missed the road that leads to Amber (Amber Rd). We saw the road sign too late to make the turn, so we continued on until we could find a place to turn around. Just a mile or so later, we came upon an orchard with a large parking lot and storefront. It reminded me of Northbrook Orchards back in Chester County, PA. We pulled in and did some shopping. I asked the cashier if she knew anything about the history of the town of Amber. She did not, but told us about a great general store there and a cemetery. We left with some apple cider doughnuts, a small blueberry pie, some gala apples and red potatoes. What a nice find!
We set our sights on finding the cemetery. We wondered if there were any Amber’s buried here. It’s a very unusual last name and we’ve never met anyone outside of Jim’s family with the surname. Perhaps the town was named for an early settler by the name of Amber! We parked along the side of road by the cemetery and wandered around among the old gravestones for about ½ hour. We found no Ambers. ☹ Oh well, it was still a nice detour!
Between our stop at the orchard and the stroll through Amber Cemetery, we had used up some time. We needed to get back on the road and make some miles. I was aiming for Woodford State Park just east of Bennington, Vermont for our next night’s accommodations. We were about 150 miles away and it was early afternoon. Plenty of time to arrive before dark.
Shortly after leaving the town of Amber, we were driving along Route 20 enjoying the scenery. This section of the road was very curvy and hilly – short but steep hills. It was another brutally hot day. Jim was traveling in tow mode most of the time to save on brakes and pamper the engine in the truck. We were starting up yet another long hill when Jim let out an almost imperceptible “Oh, no”. The engine light had come on and the truck started losing power. We limped up the hill, pulled over to the side of the road and shut the truck off. He was worried about starting down the next hill and having the truck shut down completely.
This same phenomenon happened to us a year ago in California. Going up a hill towing the trailer in extreme heat, we lost power. The problem then was the fuel filter. Jim had changed the fuel filter before we headed east on this trip, so it seemed unlikely that it was causing this issue. Last year in CA, he purchased an inexpensive code tester so he could pinpoint the engine light problem while traveling. We pulled that out and plugged it in. It spit out the following code – P0087. I have learned to look up these codes on the internet, and quickly found references to this code issue. It was indicating low fuel pressure, which could be a clogged fuel filter. Maybe we just got a bad batch of fuel somewhere?
Jim searched the back of the truck for his spare fuel filter while I located an auto parts store and called them. (just in case Jim did not find the filter) He found the filter luckily, but we were not in a good place to change it out.
About ½ hour had passed since we first pulled over, so he started up the truck to see if the engine light was still on. The engine light remained off – which had also happened in CA and we were able to drive another 100 miles to our destination. So, we used this opportunity to continue down the road and look for a more level spot to work on the truck. After several miles, we came upon a roadside rest area and pulled over. Jim got to work. He figured he would go ahead and swap out the fuel filter as a safety measure even though the engine light remained off.
We realized there could be some other issues causing the low fuel pressure from some conversations I read online regarding the P0087 code and Chevy trucks. It seems there was a service bulletin relating to Chevy Silverado Classic trucks between the years 2001 – 2007. We have a 2007. The rubber fuel lines had a tendency to collapse under hilly, hot conditions while pulling a load. Hmmmmm….sounding suspiciously like what happened to us. The age and mileage on the truck can also indicate potential “tired, worn” injectors. A costly proposition. We will need to investigate this problem more once we are home.
Travel Tip # 8: Never forget Murphy’s Law and the probability that something might go wrong. We were only a half day’s drive to our final destination of southern NH. We had traveled close to 2400 miles without a single mishap. Be prepared. Jim always travels with multiple replacement parts including filters. And the tools he needs to work on the truck. He’s a decent mechanic and it saves us lots of money when he can do routine maintenance and common fixes on the road.
By the time we were back on the road, we had lost another 2 hours. We would not be arriving at the state park in Vermont before dark. With no other good options, though, we forged ahead and hoped we would make it.
We ended up arriving at Woodford State Park well after dark. It has been a long time since we had to back into a campsite at night, and let me tell you, it was dark! The office was closed, of course, but I grabbed a map of the campground from the outside information rack and we turned into the first loop. At a sharp, left bend in the loop road, there was a campsite on the right that was roomy and the access was perfect for us. We got out of the truck to scope it out with our headlamps. Jim could pull up the road and back straight into the site. I guided him by flashlight and the process was flawless. The sight was level enough that it required just a couple of boards under the left wheels. It was a long day and we were tired!
September 27, 2017
The Woodford State Park is your typical, rustic Vermont state park campground. The sites have no hook-ups, are gravel/grass, and have enough vegetation between sites to afford a degree of privacy. We did not have access to the lake from our site but you could see it through the trees.
Since we were only about 85 miles from our son Leif’s house, we slept in and had another good, nourishing breakfast. I took the time to walk the short hiking trail over to the boat launch area and beach. Jim and I also walked around the other campground loops just to see the rest of the sites. The facilities were a little tired and Jim opted not to use the showers when he tested the water and found it was not getting hot! Maybe this time of year they turn off the hot water??
Our last day on the road unfolded without incident and we arrived at Leif and Jeannie’s about 2 pm.
Ah, nice to be settled for a spell!
Travel Tip #9: Moochdocking is a form of boondocking where you take advantage of family and friends and stay on their property for free. It’s a great way to visit with folks and still retain your mutual privacy and personal space. Just remember to NOT overstay your welcome! 🙂