Getting Backcountry

Our journey took us through Cody, WY, but we decided to only stop for lunch and then head back out to nature for a hike, rather than spend the afternoon inside a museum.

The town is named for for the famous Buffalo Bill Cody, an impressive man, who among other stuff he’s probably more famous for, he worked on Native Indian rights and protecting the native buffalo!

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Buffalo Bill Reservoir
North Fork of the Shoshone River
North Fork of the Shoshone River

We went for a hike that turned out being a horse trail, but we made the most of it and scrambled up the hillside and enjoyed the views.

Almost All The Way West to Yellowstone
Almost All The Way West to Yellowstone
View Back East Down the Valley
View Back East Down the Valley
Winnie Down Below
Winnie Down Below
Trying Some Artistic Stuff Again!
Trying Some Artistic Stuff Again!

Unfortunately, when we got back down to the camper, we’d been left a note by a ranger, letting us know that we weren’t allowed to stay at that campground below (unless we had horses or stock animals!) and would have to drive back 15 miles along the valley to Elk Creek Campground (our second of the same name on this trip!). But when we arrived, we were very happy with the spot, and finally we had arrived earlier in the day at our site for the night, so we got to enjoy the area a bit.

Elk Creek
Elk Creek
"My first time mountain biking in the mountains," commented Tadd, although we didn't get very far before the trail went up and turned into another backcountry horse trail.
“My first time mountain biking in the mountains,” commented Tadd, although we didn’t get very far before the trail went up and turned into another backcountry horse trail.

So we went back to camp for cocktails and …..

Wittling!
Wittling!
Dusk Light
Dusk Light

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Another Amazing Camp
Another Amazing Camp

Corn, Cows and a Wind Turbine

We regret that we didn’t take a picture with our hosts, John and Connie Greig of Estherville, Iowa. Lindsay took Connie on her first open water diving experience in Puerto Morelos, Mexico a few years ago, and she has been coming back every year to dive with Lindsay. As usual, we kept our promise to visit friends whenever we pass by. We did take a few snapshots of our visit with some of the cattle.

Estherville, IA Petting Cows

This is Cootie, she was bottle fed as a calf. Just so you know, they don’t normally allow people to touch them.

Estherville, IA Petting Cows w: Joe

Their son, John Greig, took us out to get up close and personal with her. Notice how all of the other cows stood by and watched curiously. John and his brother are third generation cattlemen on the family farm. Funny thing is that Joe wore his old PADI scuba diving hat this day. Most all of their family are extensive travelers and divers!

Estherville, IA Petting cows Lindsay

This is Sophie. She was an orphan and also bottle-fed. She is about 10 years old and very jealous of her people. She wouldn’t let any other of the cows come close to us! Cootie is there on the right and tried to get back into the petting action, but didn’t manage to challenge Sophie.

Estherville, IA Lindsay & John on Gator

John and Lindsay rode one of the John Deere “Gators”, while Joe and I rode in another.

Estherville, IA fixing Wind Turbine

This is a 10-year-old wind turbine that was installed on the corner of the Greig’s property by a local community college as part of a unique degree program. It needed maintenance, so a major operation that took several days was underway. I was lucky enough to witness the raising of the blades with John. I have some fast-motion video of it going up.

Between wonderful meals and a couple of restful nights in a real bedroom, with the help of John we made plans to see as much of South Dakota and Wyoming as we could fit in before we are scheduled to arrive in Albuquerque, New Mexico for the Balloon Fiesta. Thanks for your hospitality Greigs!

Next stop is the Badlands in South Dakota!

Head For The Hills

After a long day of touristy fun, we found a great little RV park in Custer, SD, where we were one of the very few travelers at this time of year. It was wonderfully quiet location, among the pines – the perfect place to watch the blood moon eclipse!

Sadly Not My Picture
Sadly Not My Picture

The next morning we cruised into town… sadly to go see a mechanic…. gotta love that check-engine light. They were too busy to really help, but one nice guy agreed to check the diagnostics to see what was going on. So we had a moment to enjoy the local wildlife…

One of the Many Delightfully Painted Bison in Custer, SD
One of the Many Delightfully Painted Bison in Custer, SD

Luckily we found someone willing to take a look at the electrics in the delightful town of Gillette, WY, and pretty speedily diagnose the issues, replace some stuff and get us back on the road ready to head off into the mountains and the national parks.

Can't Stop Taking Pictures of the Landscape Along the Road
Can’t Stop Taking Pictures of the Incredible Landscapes Along the Road

Finally able to escape from the interstate, we launched ourselves up into the Bighorn Mountains and the National Forest. As we rapidly gained altitude after leaving Buffalo, WY, we were assaulted by the beauty of White Birch trees turning yellow against the backdrop of all the pine trees.

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 We were headed to Meadlowlark Lake campground, but unfortunately it was closed, like most of the others, so as the sun was close to setting, we decided to make our own campground. We drove off the main road onto the old one, and found the perfect spot.

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The View from our First “Boondocking” Site

There were a few cows around, but they didn’t seem too bothered by us, so we weren’t either. We were just a short ways from the road, but out of site. And as the sun set, we realized we’d found the perfect spot up at 8,199 ft (2,499 m)!

The Sun Set in the Valley
The Sun Set in the Valley

It was almost a full moon so the light show after sunset was almost amazing.

The ridge above the camper glowed in the moonlight
The ridge above the camper glowed in the moonlight

And I got carried away playing with my camera and tripod again….

Night Sky In Bighorn
Night Sky In Bighorn

It was our first really cold night, but thanks to the handy furnace in the camper, we stayed toasty all night long.

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We were greeted by the dawn and mooing cows!

Curious Cows
Curious Cows

Then it was off on the road down into the valley and on to Cody, WY.

Descending the Windy Roads of Bighorn
Descending the Windy Roads of Bighorn

Badlands, Black Hills and Buffalo

Leaving behind the home comforts of Estherville, it was time to head out West… as fast as possible. Well, that just meant flinging ourselves along I-90, where the speed limit quickly rose to a whopping 80mph when we crossed into South Dakota! Not that we could keep up with all the big rigs, but the whole 80mph were on offer.

Our boxy RV was buffeted by blustery crosswinds as we headed across the plains. The sidewinds of overtaking semi trucks added to the white-knuckle steering task of keeping it between the painted lines.

 

Badlands, SD Arriving 2

Finally, by late afternoon, we arrived at The Badlands of South Dakota.

Badlands Lindsay Taking sunset

We stopped at a scenic overlook at I finally broke out the “good camera.”

Badlands, SD Moonrise 2

The moonrise over the first peaks, as the sun set on our backs, was just too amazing to miss.

Badlands, SD Campground sunset 2

After we got settled into our campground, the sun was really setting, so it was time to play some more

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The wind was picking up to about 20 mph and it was getting cooler outside

Badlands, SD Campground sunset WINNIE

But I couldn’t resist capturing yet another shot of our RV and it’s scenery.

Badlands, SD Tadd Wide

The next morning we were off and running early, driving through the”les mauvais terres pour traverse,” or “bad lands to travel through,” as this land was known by the early 1900’s, French-Canadian fur trappers.

But long before they even ventured into the area, the Lakota people were the first to call this place “mako sica” or “land bad.” Extreme temperatures, lack of water, and the exposed rugged terrain led to this name.

Badlands, SD

Today, the term badlands has a more geologic definition. Badlands form when soft sedimentary rock is extensively eroded in a dry climate. The park’s typical scenery of sharp spires, gullies, and ridges is a premier example of Badlands geological formations.

 

Badlands, SD 2

 

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Badlands, SD 3

The land surrounding this area of erosion is relatively flat and has some grasses growing, just like the rest of South Dakota.

As we passed all the others visitors entering the park from the northwest, we headed for an obligatory stop at the famous Wall Drug.

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In 1931, Ted & Dorothy Hustead bought the only drugstore in a town called Wall on the edge of the South Dakota Badlands. Business was bad… well, really bad… until Dorothy came up with the idea to offer free ice water to the passing visitors as they drove through the parched local landscape…. and the rest is history!

Many of the people driving through the are coming or going to check out one of the coolest National Monuments in the U.S. – Mount Rushmore. And as much as we like to generally avoid the super touristy spots on our travels, sometimes it’s just important to suck it up and enjoy the view!

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Not much to say…  George, Tommy, Teddy and Abraham!

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So many amazing views of the carvings as you explore the area!

Rushmore, SD George 2

Rushmore, SD Abe 2

The incredible feat it was to sculpt these mammoth heads was a wonderful piece of American history alone.

Did You Know?

Black and white photograph showing the original position of the figure of Thomas Jefferson on George Washington's right side (our left when viewing the mountain).

The figure of Thomas Jefferson was originally started on Washington’s right side. After 18 months of carving the figure of Jefferson had to be blasted off the mountain, as the type of rock they found over there just wasn’t hard enough to complete the task, and restarted on Washington’s left side.

We learned lots at the Mt. Rushmore Memorial!

Leaving the presidents behind, we drove up through the twisty mountain roads into the national forest and on through the Custer State Park.

Blackhills Natl Forest, SD FALL

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Blackhills Natl Forest, SD Curves

Blackhills Natl Forest, SD Tunnel #2

Blackhills Natl Forest, SD

Blackhills Natl Forest, SD Tunnel #1

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The amazing view across the high plains

Custer SP, SD Lake

Now, the yearly roundup had just taken place in the Custer SP, where they drive all the bison south to different pastures in order to decide which members of the herd will be sold off to reduce numbers. So, we had decided not to spend too much time in the park, as I though my first chance to see the American Buffalo wouldn’t happen….

But then we found this guy (?) who had evaded the cowboys, and was just hanging out grazing at the side of the road!!! Spectacular!

Custer SP, SD Buffalo 1

Custer SP, SD Buffalo 3

Custer SP, SD Buffalo 4

One hell of a day!

 

America’s First Rail Trail

The Elroy-Sparta Bike Trail is a 32-mile railroad trail between Elroy and Sparta, Wisconsin. Considered to be the first rail trail when it opened in 1967, it was designed for foot, bicycle, equestrian or light motorized traffic.

This is a must-do for anyone travelling in the area of western Wisconsin. After reading about this bike trail, we were excited to actually stop driving for a half day and enjoy ourselves. We were very glad we chose this place. We decided on the least-expensive campground in Wilton, WI which is city-owned.

Wilton, WI Campground

The park attendant came by early the next morning to collect the fee of $7 bucks per person!

Wilton, WI Gold Medal Flour

The hardware store around the corner sold us the permits for the trail at a whopping $4 each.

Sparta Elroy bike trail

The best part of this bike trail was the fact that is used to be a railway, so while it was going up or down in elevation all of the time, it was at a gentle slope and was never too steep to manage.

Sparta Elroy bike trail WOODEN BRIDGE

It was perfectly maintained and a joy to ride.

Sparta Elroy bike trail wall Tunnel #1

The tunnels were a highlight, for sure.

Sparta Elroy bike trail tunnel overpass 2

This particular tunnel was NOT used for trains. It has obviously been put in under the county road since it became a bike trail.

Sparta Elroy bike trail tunnel Lindsay Reading signs

Lindsay read up on the history and safety warnings about not disturbing the bats. We didn’t see any bats.

Sparta Elroy bike trail tunnel FLUME

This stone flume was created to channel rainwater away from the low-lying railway bed. Very well preserved, don’t you think?

Sparta Elroy Bike Trail tunnel #2

Can you believe this is almost free? The doors are to keep people and snowmobiles out during the wintertime.

Sparta Elroy bike trail tunnel #2 T&L

Tunnel selfie!
Sparta Elroy bike trail tunnel #2 looking out

Water ran down both sides of the tunnel path. This tunnel was the shorter of the two we went through and was constructed of limestone blocks on the vertical sides and clay-bricked into an arch on the top.

Sparta Elroy bike trail tunnel #2 inside

There was lots of mold growning on the sides, but yet it smelled fresh inside.

Sparta Elroy bike trail tunnel #2 exit

Onward to the next tunnel, about 7 miles away.
Sparta Elroy bike trail tunnel #1 wall

The walls of the longer tunnel, which is 3/4 of a mile long, were carved from the limestone rock. No need to block or brick this one! A natural spring was struck during it’s creation. We stood still to listen to the water dripping from the ceiling.

Sparta Elroy bike trail tunnel #1 interior

It was very difficult to photograph in the darkness but this shows the growth on the walls and ceiling.

Sparta Elroy bike trail tunnel #1 entrance

Time to turn around and head back to camp.

Sparta Elroy bike trail tunnel #1 DATE

This reads 1873. The information we read told us it was all created with manual labor. I guess the only steam power was the engine of the train at this time.

Sparta Elroy bike trail Norwalk Creamery

An old abandoned building along the railway still has potential, as it’s obviously well built.

Sparta Elroy bike trail FIELDS

Rolling hills of alfalfa in the distance.

Sparta Elroy bike trail FIELDS 2

Pristine views of country homes and fields are on both sides of the path.

Sparta Elroy bike trail 4

A levy was created to control the flooding of the valley in the 1970s.

Sparta Elroy bike trail 2

Going fast downhill in top gear was relaxing because we knew there would be no obsticles or holes in the well-maintained path.

Sparta Elroy bike trail

We have now decided to look for more rail paths in the future, and recommend you find some nearby you as well! Tomorrow we travel to our cattle-ranching friends in Estherville, Iowa before launching out into the Great Plains!

The Great River Road Trip

Rather than drive quickly out of the Midwest and concentrate on everything west of the Missouri River, as I was thinking of doing, Lindsay quickly started planning a sightseeing tour right out of southern Indiana by steering us off the Interstate highways. I had no idea she would be interested in seeing the agricultural and architectural side of the Midwest. I’m glad she did because I saw some things I’d never seen before along the Mississippi Great River Road.

Harvesting the corn

We enjoyed watching the farmers of Indiana and Illinois harvesting their soybeans and corn.

Branston, IN Rail crossing

The amount of railways and working trains were impressive.

Chili Thanks Brent

We wanted to say “thanks” to my brother, Brent, for the Midwest style chili which was made from his garden vegetables that he canned into his “chili starter” mix. Fantastic stuff.

Ursa, IL Campground

We camped our first night for free on the Mississippi River at the Bear Creek campground in Ursa, IL.

Ursa, IL campground Sunset 2

We only saw one fishing boat on the river.

Ursa, IL Campground sunset

We were the only people in the campground, and all we heard was a combine harvesting corn in the distance.

Ursa, IL campground sunrise

The next morning we took a quick walk along the river. What you see on the left is actually an island to the West of Illinois, not Iowa like I thought at first.

Great River Road

We crossed over into Iowa and drove slowly along the Mississippi River along the Great River Road.

Muscatine-IA

I never would have thought to photograph and old brick building like this, but Lindsay kept saying “Wow”, while pointing, and I encouraged her to take a quick shot of this one.

Mississippi - Bellvue, IA

What can I say. This is a beautiful shot from the side window from Iowa looking at Illinois. Notice the RV shadow in the lower right?

Great River Road CLOSED

We had to take a detour along gravel roads to find the path along the river again, which was not routed for us with signage, surprisingly, but we managed. We refused to take gravel roads EVER again after that.

Dubuque, IA Bridge

We made it all the way to Debuque, Iowa and found a small campground on an island next to this bridge.

Dubuque, IL Miller Campground

We are absolutely loving the RV experience and we took a quick bike ride around the island.

Dubuque, IL Miller Campground TINY Minnie!

This time of year, since school is in session, we have lots of space between campers.

Dubuque, IL Miller Campground view 2

We were disappointed, however, with the seemingly endless wailing of train horns during the night. We didn’t sleep very well here but the view was spectacular.

Our next destination was to stay with and visit our friends we know from Puerto Morelos, Mexico who live in northern Iowa. Due to their social schedule it was best that we delay our arrival by one day, so we decided to take advantage of a nearby attraction. The Elroy-Sparta National Trail was just a bit north of our route, so we headed up there to get some exercise and enjoy a long ride on a well-developed path. See loads of gorgeous pictures on our next post!

The Journey Begins

Our Great “Merican” Road Trip has begun. Over the past nine days, we have flown to Ft. Lauderdale, then Chicago, taken a train and driven the RV over 400 miles.

In Ft. Lauderdale we were fortunate enough to stay with a long lost friend of Lindsay’s, Neill Suarez. He gave her one the tattoos that you can see on her arms while she was living in Quito, Ecuador in 2001. Another reconnection thanks to Facebook!

We then rented a car and drove to Big Pine Key to stay with my cousin Tom Erb. Here, we registered the RV and got a cool environmental license plate.

Tom, Tadd and plate

Then we flew to Chicago to stay with another old friend, Elsie Ovrahim and we rented Divvy bikes to tour the lakeshore with Mary Jo and Amber Janzen.

Mary Jo, Amber, Lindsay and Tadd
 Mary Jo (from Key West), Lindsay, Amber and Tadd on Montrose Beach, Chicago

After a Greyhound bus to Lawrence, Michigan to meet the seller of the RV, Ed Hagen, we drove up to meet my cousin Julia Savoy for the night. She had helped us by inspecting and finalizing the purchase of the RV while we were still in Mexico.

Thanks for helping us with the purchase, Julia!
                  Thanks for making it happen, Julia!

Lindsay and I seem to both enjoy living in small quarters, so I chose this 21 foot RV. It reportedly gets good gas mileage, too!

Proud new owners.
Proud new owners.

Everything we need is in here. Well, at least for a road trip!

Interior of RV

The very next day, since we were so close, drove into Indiana to see my family.

A Field of Dreams
Here’s where soybeans grow. I know, you were expecting corn, weren’t you!
Okay this is field corn. It's a grain. The corn-on-the-cob that you ate this summer is different. Just sayin'.
Okay this is field corn. It’s a grain. The corn-on-the-cob that you ate this summer is different. Just sayin’.

We got into the fall, harvest spirit and added some dashboard decor from the Brookston Apple and Popcorn Festival.

Dash decor squash

Dash Decor Corn

A few days later we arriving in Bedford, IN to visit my brother, Brent at just the right time to stock up on fresh veggies!

Tadd picking peppers

 

Everything looks like a moustache to Lindsay!
Everything looks like a moustache to Lindsay!

 

Lindsay pepper
We now have more of these than we know what to do with!

Today, after our first night in Brent’s driveway, we have properly tested all of the amenities onboard the RV, and are currently on our way to visit Ursa, IL. Apparently, according to Lindsay, the Mississippi River has a scenic drive along it. Ursa has a free camping area that we are planning to use.

I am posting this from the driver’s seat, as Lindsay is driving her first motor home. You can follow our path on a live map by clicking here, just scroll down a bit and you’ll see a map with our Last Known Position!

History of Diving Museum

We really enjoyed our stop on the way down the Florida Keys the History of Diving Museum in Islamorada, Florida.

These metal suits were used to protect the diver from the high levels of pressure at depths near a thousand feet, greatly reducing the decompression times. They look more like robots to me.

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Helmets were used way into the 1960s!

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There is an impressive collection of real diving helmets from every country in the world that has made them.

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We’ve always just driven past this amazing sculpture of a spiny lobster.

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This time, we just had to share this cool photo opportunity!

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