Category Archives: Travel

Isle Royale, plus!

How does one get to Michigan from Minnesota without going through any other state?

Via Lake Superior on a boat, of course!

Our last park was a lake, this one is an island in a lake.  A very big lake.  In fact, the largest lake in the country, Lake Superior, which has a surface area of 31,700 square miles.

Isle Royale National Park was established on April 3, 1940 to protect 571,790 acres in this island habitat located in the northern most reaches of Michigan, close to the border of Canada and Minnesota.  The quickest route to get to Michigan’s only National Park is actually via a boat ride from Grand Portage, Minnesota and takes about 90 minutes.  By way of comparison, the boat ride from Copper Harbor, Michigan takes 4.5 hours and from Houghton, Michigan takes 6 hours.

So, on Sunday 8/27/2017 we departed Kabetogama and Voyageurs National Park bound for Grand Portage, MN which would be our base to explore this island park on Lake Superior.  We didn’t expect this, but, Grand Portage was a great place too.  It’s home to Grand Portage National Monument, a very cool bonus from this trip.  And check out this campground on the shore of Lake Superior, what a beautiful spot.

Grand Portage National Monument is located on the shores of Grand Portage Bay in the northwest portion of Lake Superior.  It is the eastern terminus of the 8.5 mile Grand Portage between Lake Superior and Fort Charlotte on the Pigeon River.  Back in the day, French-Canadian voyageurs would each carry two 90-pound packs (yeah, thats right, 180 pounds of trade goods) the entire route to reach the inland headquarters of the North West Company.  Each summer, members of the company’s management team would travel from Montreal across Lake Superior by canoe to meet here with trappers and members of the Native American Ojibwe tribe who brought pelts to trade for glass beads, wool blankets, woven cloth and iron implements.

While in Grand Portage, we had a day to explore the area so off we went in the Jeep in search of a microbrewery or two.  A town about thirty miles south called Grand Marais looked like it may have what we wanted and we were rewarded with another beer that will make it to the next Craft Brew post update…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

On Wednesday, August 30, we took the 8:30 AM passenger ferry, Sea Hunter III, from Voyageurs Marina for the 90 minute voyage to Windigo on Isle Royale National Park for the day.  Once there, we would have four hours to explore this section of the 45 mile long x 9 mile wide Isle Royale, the main isle of the 400 or so isles in this archipelago.

The ferry ride was certainly interesting.  The website warned passengers to come prepared for bad weather and we did.  Good thing because they did not mention that only about one third of the passengers would get a seat inside while the other two-thirds would be sitting outside, exposed to the weather.  This day, the wind was blowing hard from the north and creating serious spray that drenched most of us that ended up outside the cabin.  Our rain suits were worth every penny we spent on them!  There were a few times when the waves crashed over the bow putting a lot of icy-cold water on the top of the cabin.  When it came pouring off the top, it doused Siobhan and everyone else sitting on that row of benches.  (Fortunately for me, I guess, I was standing just under the cabin roof as there was such limited seating.)  Also, the air temp was only in the 50s out on the water so it was a brisk-feeling morning!  Still a blast though, being out on the water again.

Shortly before we arrived at the island the ferry’s captain trolled past the wreck of the passenger ship America which sunk here in 1928, its bow visible just below the surface.  It is one of 25 ships claimed by the rocky shoals, fog banks and storm winds around Isle Royale.  Once on land, we spoke with the Park Ranger at the Windigo Visitor’s Center and chose the 3.8 mile Feldtmann Lake Trail that took us to Grace Creek Overlook and back just in time for the return trip to Grand Portage.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We would be remiss if we didn’t mention that this island is best known for the experiment founded by scientist Durward Allen in 1958 known as the Isle Royale Wolf-Moose Study in which this island serves as the laboratory to study the interactions of the two species and their habitat when virtually removed from human influence.  Here, wolves are the only large predator since there are no bears, coyotes or cougars.  This is the longest continuous predator-prey study ever undertaken and is still active to this day (for more info, refer to isleroyalewolf.org).  Most fascinating is that neither species is native to the island and both likely arrived here in the first half of the 1900s from Minnesota’s north shore on Lake Superior.

ttyl,

K&S

 

 

 

 

Voyageurs

Now this is more like it!

We’d been disappointed with the last few parks we visited and wondered if we were simply burnt out on this adventure.  It’s August 25th and we had been on the road for almost five months now and drove close to 10,000 miles.  Maybe we’d reached our limit?

Not a chance.  It took a couple of days to get here from western North Dakota but we found northern Minnesota to be much more to our liking!

Getting to this place mentally wasn’t without a hitch though.  Last night we crossed the state border from North Dakota into Minnesota and found a relatively new Walmart not far from the highway to get some sleep.  That worked out fine and we were encouraged by the changing countryside as we continued our drive northeast all morning.  Lots of green.  Pastures, trees, hills, even mountains.  All covered in green!  We were feeling better by the mile.

There is not too much up this way though.  We arranged a campground here a few days ago but I was apprehensive about it.  I’d asked the owner about level sites, full hookups, wide roads and places large enough to turn this rig around.  She assured me that she had what we needed.  I still felt uneasy but there really was not much to choose from so we gave it a shot.  This was one of those things that reminded me to trust my instincts.  When we arrived, we could not even figure out where the entrance to the campground was.  We just parked the rig on the road along the driveway and I went to talk with the owner.  She showed me the site she had reserved for us.  Not level, no sewer hookup and the water would require 75’ of hose.  Really?  This did not seem reasonable nor anything even close to what we had discussed on the phone.  Oh, did I mention that it would require disconnecting the Jeep and backing about 100’ down a dirt driveway barely wide enough for a car?  Or, that the tree branches were not cleared high enough up the trees to avoid scratching the heck out of the RV?

Well, I wanted to say forget it but we had not found any other campgrounds anywhere near this place.  I asked if she might have any other sites available.  She had what she considered one other site, in between that dirt driveway and the road, on a steep pitch and with no electric!  That was enough for me.  She would not even consider lowering her $40/night fee to accommodate for the fact that the sites were not level and did not have full hookups.  So, I said we would have to go elsewhere (having no clue where that would be).

She was so sweet about it.  She said she would start calling around to see if she could find us another place.  Within just a few minutes, she was driving us in her golf cart to a friend’s place just down a dirt driveway to the last place on the road.  They had one spot large enough for us with a great view of the lake.  What a relief.   And what a great find!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Welcome to Arrowhead Resort and RV Park.  A great spot, right on Lake Kabetogama.  The owners, Larry and Betsy, run their resort (cabins, lodge rooms and small RV park), and Larry is also an outfitter offering guided tours of the park!  What a great deal.

Voyageurs National Park begins when you step off the shore.  The park is the lake and the more than 500 islands within it.  We signed up for a two-hour tour (remember Gilligan?) later that day.  It was a bright sunny afternoon with temps in the mid-60s and light winds, a perfect lake day.  Larry got his pontoon boat ready and off we went, just the three of us.  It felt sooo good to be back on the water, guess we were really missing our home at the lake in NH more than we realized!

We learned that this place is 218,054 acres, 40 percent water consisting of four major lakes (Rainy, Kabetogama, Namakan and Sand Point) and dozens of many smaller ones, 655 miles of shoreline and more than 500 islands.  All campsites in the park can only be reached by boat.  Importantly, this entire place is untouched by development since being established as a national park on April 8, 1975.  In fact, the relatively few private homes that had been developed on the park’s islands prior to that date have gradually been purchased and razed in an effort to return the area to its natural state.

Voyageurs National Park took its name from the famed 18th-century canoe-paddling French Canadian adventurers who traveled the areas lakes and rivers to transport trade goods westward and furs eastward between Montreal and the huge inland forests of Canada.  Part of this trade route actually became part of the US-Canada boundary and 56 miles of the route pass through this park.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Larry brought us past the Chief Wooded Frog Islands and the outlet that feeds from Kabetogama Lake into Black Bay on Rainy Lake (the water flows north here), then past the trail head for Locator Lake Trail where he had shuttled a couple of backpackers earlier that day.  While here, we saw beavers, mink, eagles and hawks while floating around on the lake.  Our next stop was at Ellsworth Rock Gardens on the north shore of the lake.  The Ellsworth’s used to spend their summers here and Jack, over a 22 year period, built 62 terraced flower beds on a prominent rock outcropping which he filled with more than 13,000 lilies and over 200 abstract rock sculptures.  He did this all on his own, no power tools or heavy equipment involved.  Amazing.  This spot once enjoyed spectacular views of the lake that are now blocked because the trees have since gotten tall enough to obscure the view.  Perhaps, one day, the National Park Service will change its policy so that the view can be returned to what it once was.  After Siobhan and I wandered around this spot for about half an hour, we rejoined Larry for the boat ride back to his Arrowhead Resort.  On this evening the water was quite calm, however, Larry assured us that the conditions do change rapidly and the waves can reach up to four feet at times.

Really good thing we got out on the lake as quickly as we did, too.  Rain was forecast here for the next two days.  And it poured!

IMG_0144

We wanted to get out of the RV on Saturday so we drove the Jeep over to International Falls, MN to check out the town.  Another lucky call for us as this just happened to be the day of the Bass Championship and Classic Car Show and it was not raining here (about 30 minutes away from the campground).  Check out these rides!  And we got to try cheese curds for the first time too (maybe and F&L)!

We relaxed on Sunday as it rained most of the day.  We were introduced to the MN Air Force – mosquitos the size of small birds.  Thousands of them swarming around outside created an audible sound like a weed trimmer buzzing.  Not a big deal to the folks that live here but pretty startling to those of us who had not experienced this previously.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Even the rain could not dampen our experiences here.  This was a great visit to a wonderful place.

IMG_0127

Ttys,

K&S

Theodore Roosevelt – the park

You may know that Theodore Roosevelt was the 26th President of the United States.  You may not know, however, that after William McKinley’s assassination, Teddy became the youngest president our country has ever had at only 42 years old.  He was an extremely accomplished young man as an American statesman, author, explorer, soldier, naturalist and reformer.  We learned this and much more about Teddy while visiting the National Park in North Dakota named for him.  It was established on 4/25/1947 and protects 70,467 acres of land in three units all located on the western side of the state.

We chose to visit the South Unit, beginning with a stop at the Painted Canyon Visitor Center.  Its located directly off the I-94 highway at exit 32 and provides park information and great views of the rugged badlands below from the top of this bluff.

Only hiking trails provide park access from here so we drove a few exits farther to the main park entrance in the town of Medora.  Here, we found a small museum and the Maltese Cross Log Cabin that Teddy lived in for a while starting back in 1883.  In fact, it is said that Teddy came to North Dakota shortly after both his wife and mother passed away within a very short time of each other.  This was (and still appears to be) a tough place to create a life.  Yet, he was a tough man and found this experience here cathartic.  Later, he would credit his time in North Dakota with enabling him to become president.  His conservationist legacy includes federal protection of more than 230 million acres of land including 5 national parks, 150 national forests, the first 51 federal bird reserves, the first 18 national monuments (some of which were later established by others as national parks) and the first 4 national game preserves.  (He did not establish this national park, however.)

The unit of the park that we explored via the Jeep for a portion of the 36-mile scenic loop drive seemed so much like Badlands National Park in South Dakota that we felt as though we had already been here.  We did see a few bison, some feral horses, thousands of prairie dogs (no exaggeration!), a couple of coyotes chasing the prairie dogs as well as a badger trying desperately to have one for lunch to no avail.

If you are up for some off-roadin’, this could be a great place to check out.  Make sure you bring your compass though.  We had to forego this opportunity since our Jeep wasn’t in great shape (remember, the altercation with the deer…) but you can take Custer Trail Auto Tour from just south of the Painted Canyon Visitor Center.

I guess we were just plain tired, tired of driving, tired of badlands, tired of traveling, tired…things started to look too familiar so we stopped on the loop, turned back for Medora and spent the rest of the day exploring the small western town.  That was fun, yet, it is a very very small town.

Back to the RV Park in Dickinson for some R&R, time to recharge our batteries.

ttyl,

K&S

 

 

Badlands

OK, full disclosure, just a drive-though park, for us at least.

South Dakota’s Badlands National Park, established on 11-10-1978 and covering 244,300 acres in three units, is located not far from I-90 lending itself to a quick visit.  Opting for the backroads route (Route 44) to get to this park from our campground in Blackhawk, SD it took us about an hour and a half to get there in the Jeep.  This route brought us through sections of Buffalo Gap National Grassland and the towns (don’t sneeze, you’ll miss ’em) of Scenic and Interior on our way to the Interior Entrance and the Ben Reifel Visitor Center.

Not sure why, but, neither of us were very interested in exploring this place.  It looked a lot like other parks we experienced in the southwest.  Maybe we were just getting burned out on the park-thing.  Maybe, we’d seen this type of place before and that was enough for us.  Maybe, and unexpectedly, there were just too many people here.  Guess it was a good thing that we had to head back west to get to the campground.

We drove the 39-mile Badlands Loop Road through the North Unit of the park to make our way back to Rapid City, SD via I-90.  A few vistas caught our attention and pried us from the Jeep to stretch our legs and snap a few pics that we will share with you here.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We exited the park at the Pinnacles Entrance (and exit) and set out find a local brewery in Rapid City, SD.  It turned out to be a decent visit but the beer isn’t going to make it to the favorites list.  Oh well, not every day can be a top-ten-worthy.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

ttyl,

K&S

Sturgis

This place is famous for the annual motorcycle rally held here during August.  We arrived in town not even a week after the event came to a close but wanted to check it out anyway.

We talked to some “townies” to get their view of the rally – good or bad.  Much to our surprise, it seemed that they actually look forward to the crowds that fill this otherwise quiet small town.  The lady at the post office talked about the interesting people that she gets to meet, the bar tender talked about all the extra hours she gets to work, the guy at the liquor store talked about all the excitement going on during those ten days.  They all said they were happy to have their town back to normal and that they really enjoyed the change of pace that this rally brings with it each year.

We had fun checking out the scene while it was not so packed.

Our campsite in Blackhawk, SD was less than an hour away so we just had to come check it out while we were in the area.  We thought we might see some nice new Harleys at the store but they did not have any bikes, just clothes and accessories?  Most of the town looked pretty normal, except this one pink place?

Fun visit, glad we went, not sure we need to go back…

ttys,

K&S

Six Inches Matter!

When we first started this adventure, we were really nervous about driving the RV.   As we racked up the miles, we got more and more comfortable driving it and having a ‘feel’ for where we could take it and where we could not.  Well, that level of comfort is not always a good thing.

Well, on our way to Mount Rainier National Park, we were going through a small town that was likely the last place we would be able to get fuel for a long time.  I wheeled into the station, angling for the right island to enable filling our tank, everything lining up just right.

Then, it hit me!  Something was not right.  Something felt bad.  Just a foot or two before we drove under the gas station canopy (the roof that keeps you dry while filling up your vehicle on a rainy day) I jumped on the brakes and stopped, quickly!!

We both know our RV requires 12′ 10″ of clearance.  We remind each other constantly.  We even work together to critically assess gas stations before we pull in to be confident that there will be room to turn back out after refueling and that we can fit under the canopy.  Don’t forget, this rig is close to 50′ in length when we are towing the Jeep.

Once the RV came to a complete (albeit, abrupt) stop, I looked up to see the following painted on the canopy:

Clearance:  12′ 4″

By now, I’m sure you see the problem.  I’m guessing that it was a subconscious thing that gave me that somethings-not-right feeling.  I must have seen the clearance painted on that canopy as we were driving in.  Whatever it was, it saved us from making a huge mess out of that RV!  That would have been the end of the two air conditioning units on the roof, the antennas, the triple-vision back-up and sideview cameras, maybe even the roof itself.

Six inches matter.

Since we can not back the RV up when there is a tow vehicle attached, we had to stop right there, blocking access to that lane at the station, unhook the Jeep, back it up, then back up the RV to get out of that place.  What a mess…but…no damage.  Just an inconvenience.  And some excitement for the day.

ttyl,

K&S

Wind Cave

We had enjoyed a very special five day visit in the Grand Tetons but on Wednesday, August 16th it was time to move on.  We weren’t sure exactly how far we would go but the next destination was in South Dakota by way of Cody, Wyoming.  We figured we’d make a decision once we arrived in Cody as to whether to continue on our way or do a night of Walmart camping.  Turns out we covered the entire 500 miles that day and camped out in Hot Springs, South Dakota for a couple of nights.

We were here to visit Wind Cave National Park which was established as the eighth national park on January 9, 1903 to protect 33,851 acres in the Black Hills of South Dakota where one of the world’s longest caves exists.  Here you will find a complex, multi-level cave system with 143 miles of underground passages lying beneath only 1.2 miles of surface area.  But not all to see here is underground as the park also protects a globally significant expanse of mixed-grass prairie, an ecosystem that has largely disappeared elsewhere across North America.

The only way to explore the caves is to take a Ranger-guided tour and there are many to choose from varying in length and difficulty.  We opted for the Fairgrounds Tour which lasted almost two hours, included 450 stairs, explored the upper and middle levels of the cave.   In the middle level of this cave, we got to see the rare and delicate formations referred to as boxwork.  Wind Cave actually houses about 95% of the world’s known boxwood which resembles honeycomb fins.  In the upper levels of the cave, we saw the larger rooms with popcorn and frostwork formations.  Another very interesting tour underground.

While we took many pictures, its tough to convey what it felt like to be underground through those pics.  So, we will only include a few, trying to share a sense of it.  This much we can tell you, some of our friends that don’t like small, confined spaces would not have been comfortable on this tour!

Back in the sunlight, we drove through the park and saw some of the members of the parks 400-head bison (aka, buffalo) herd roaming the grasslands while we headed north to our next destination but that will be our next post.

ttys,

K&S