Travelling through Iowa, South Dakota, North Dakota,
Montana, and Washington State in the Summer of 1996
June 13 - 20 Spirit Lake, Iowa... We have found, so far, the best run Coast to Coast park in the system: Cutty's Okoboji Resort Club. When you drive up to the gate the gate attendant actually is waiting to greet you and we meet only courteous staff. The beautifully landscaped grounds and well-maintained facilities are exceptional; in addition the sites are level and we enjoy using 60 amps of electrical power. They even deliver mess ages to your site upon receipt of a phone call or mail. The resort is not on the water but is adjacent to West Lake Okoboji, one of the "great lakes of Iowa." Houses and resorts of every size, shape and price border every inch of the shoreline. West Okoboji is one of three "blue water" lakes in the world. The other two are Lake Louise in Canada and Lake Geneva in Switzerland. Water in the lake turns over once yearly during August; this action apparently gives the lake its' blue water.
Cindy at Hair Team of Spirit Lake does an excellent haircut for both T.J. and I (a "7" score compared to Joe's " I 0.") Spirit Lake natives indicate that on busy summer weekends the crowds of tourists reduce driving speeds to a crawl around the three major lakes and time is the only measure of distance. They also tell us that the ugly weather over Thanksgiving is tempered by a pleasant December and that January can be brutal with temperatures falling to thirty degrees below zero.
Who would believe that doing laundry can open the door to a new adventure? While doing his turn at the laundry, T. J. responded to a notice on the bulletin board concerning a Baja trip. We visited with Jim and Alice Moyer (the notice originators) and now are looking forward to a forty-day, two-thousand-mile experience next January. The Moyers and their friends from Oregon have been to Baja several times and we will be a caravan of three unless we can find a fourth.
The Moyers farm eight-hundred acres not far from Spirit Lake and answer our many questions concerning Iowa farming. They purchased their home and half the land from Jim's family; leasing the balance. This year's crop is half soy beans and half field corn; planted in late May. The Moyers use the farming technique "minimum tillage" and after planting their next chore is to "rock pick"; the cold weather and frozen ground forces rocks (fist-size to suitcase-size) to move to the surface. It is necessary to remove them before harvesting; machines perform this task. During the summer, fertilizer and insecticides are applied first by tractor and later by air. Harvest begins in late September with soy beans; quickly stored at the public elevator. The Moyers use their own drying silos for the corn; propane heat reduces the moisture level to about 15% then they move it into storage silos.
It is interesting to drive the secondary roads of Iowa and realize that almost the entire state is blocked-off into mile squares with county roads occurring every mile. We assume this resulted from the homesteading of 640 acre tracks (sections) which are one mile square. Additionally, all the intersections have street signs. You can pass an intersection out in the country and discover that you are on National Street and have just passed 420th Ave. Jim and Alice indicate that every home in the state now has a street address for "911" purposes.
June 20 - 22 Sioux Falls, South Dakota... Our drive to Sioux Falls took us through about sixty miles of Minnesota. This area has received too much rain with the low spots in cultivated fields under water. As we enter South Dakota and stop at the tourist information office, we discover more coolant leaking from the front of the coach. Same song-second verse! By now we're old hands at finding the local Caterpillar dealer. We luckily hit an open spot in their shop calendar and make an appointment for later that afternoon. After paying for a campsite, T. J. takes the coach and dogs the short distance to the dealer and Frankie goes shopping.
T.J. fears the worst when he learns which hose is leaking; one of the short-comings of this `84 BlueBird is the difficult engine access. Months ago we discussed traveling to Levelland, Texas to have a "swïng-out" radiator installed but TJ's close relationship with his eye doctor this spring changed our plans. Without the "swing-out" it is necessary to dismantle the entire front-end of the coach and dismount the radiator to get to hoses and belts. T.J. prepares himself for eight hours of labor to remove and replace the radiator plus the time for the actual repair. Gloom turns to delight when twenty minutes later he learns that our Bird already has a "swing-out" radiator. Thinking of the trip to Mexico in January, T.J. has all the belts and hoses replaced; better safe than sorry. Frankie comes to the rescue with a take-out supper and we play cards for several hours. The Cat crew is typically knowledgeable, courteous and helpful. We save the replaced belts (still in good condition) for spares and purchase spare hoses. At eleven p.m., we finally return to our campsite; hope this pattern does not continue!
Friday is a quiet day until six p.m. when a Model "A" bobtail speedster pulls into the campground asking for directions to a propane dealer. He is a competitor in the 1996 Great American Race, an annual west to east coast event for vehicles built before 1940. Over one hundred vehicles started the race in Vancouver and eighty-two are making this layover in Sioux Falls. Some are crossing the day's "finish line" as we arrive in downtown Sioux Falls and as each car arrives they park along the street (closed to traffic) so we can talk to the drivers and inspect the assorted vehicles. Of special interest to us is the crew of Baylor Bears from Texas manning a 1938 Packard. They purchased the car in Colorado and repainting the fenders was the only restoration necessary. The original leather roof top is still in beautiful condition. Another owner from Waco traded his Prevost for a 1936 bright red Ford sedan. Equally interesting is the 1938 Kenworth truck, an ancient army Jeep and a Chrysler sedan with wooden trim. The race will end in Toronto and the winner will enjoy a substantial cash prize; though I suspect money is not what makes this race competitive.
Sioux Falls has a Saturday morning Farmer's Market so bright and early we are off to see what we can locate. There are only I 6 booths but we find beautiful tomatoes and other vegetables, seasoned chicken patties, pork tenderloins and a transplanted Southerner who bakes sweet potato and pecan pies. Both are great. Later we find the chicken patties and pork to be over rated and over priced. One can but try and experiment.
Hilda and Logan enjoy our trip to the Falls of Sioux Falls late Saturday afternoon. The river forms a big horse shoe with the original town site within the shoe to take advantage of the power supplied by the falls. The falls are not one single cascade of water but, a broad series of falls. The biggest is about eighty feet in width with a drop of twenty feet; no Niagara but with the sound effects, quite impressive. The visitor's center is a disappointment; while there is historical information there are no details concerning the volume of water, height and breadth of the falls, etc.
Sioux Falls impresses us with its cleanliness; on every drive into town we take a different road so we can explore the area. The subdivisions, regardless of age, are pretty, neat and well maintained. All have well-kept lawns with no peeling house paint; we wonder if Sioux Falls has any slums. The well-kept look also applies to the downtown area where buildings erected in the early 1900's are still in use.
June 23 Fargo, North Dakota... We leave Sioux Falls behind as we head North on I-29 to North Dakota. This interstate has very little traffic and while we ride T.J. explores the Trailer Life directory; we decide to stay two nights in Fargo at the county campground. Arriving, we drive around the muddy (read quagmire) horseshoe arrangement of sites; the Wal-Mart parking lot seems the best option, and so it is!
June 24 - 26 Icelandic State Park, Cavalier, ND... Some of our I 50 mile drive is on interstate and then US SI paralleling I-29. This is the Red River Valley of the North; the bed of a pre-historic lake. The most fertile farm region in the US; it is only 25 miles wide and extends North from Fargo about I 50 miles. The entire area is astonishingly flat with rich black soil. The large farming operations raise sugar beets, potatoes, beans for the dry bean market, barley and wheat. Planting trees in the valley îs almost a religious duty; the first settlers to the region found a beautiful valley without a single tree. As they built sod and then wooden homes, they were at the mercy of the continuous, hard winds; so everyone planted trees as windbreaks. Now the entire valley has trees dividing each field to reduce soil erosion. The planting of trees along the North, South and West sides of every farm house and out-building seems to be the rule. Three to six rows of evergreen shrubs and trees guide the winds up and over the houses preventing snow buildup.
According to "Road Food," a book on places to eat in the USA, Smoky's in Ardock has great steaks and sinful (baked and deep fried) potatoes. We almost miss Ardock because the town is so small; when we back track we interrupt a man getting his mail and ask for directions. He just smiles and informs us that Smoky's closed six years ago. Well! undaunted, we proceed to Minto eat at the only cafe in town; hot pork sandwiches with mashed potatoes. That's a lot of roast pork between two slices of white bread with mashed potatoes filling the plate; all covered with brown gravy.
The highway-department construction crew provides the only excitement for the day. The two highways that intersect in downtown Cavalier are now one lane in places and no lane is wider than eleven feet. We look on this as practice for driving the Baja but we hope Mexican highways will have shoulders and not a three-feet drop-off at the edge.
Finally, arrive at Icelandic State Park; with skepticism we note the well-kept grounds adjacent to highway and the beautiful museum plus office for check-in. Can this be a great park? It is one of the rare finds. Our swing-through site is along a back road with our own wooded area. At mid-week we are the only unit in sight! Frankie comments that this is what she thought all RVing would be. This coming Friday is Canada Day and the park staff expects a crowd so we will leave that morning.
Wednesday we drive 30 miles to the town of Park Lake and leave the dogs for a bath; we feel confident after checking the back rooms and interviewing the staff. As we reach I-29 we decide the possibility of good Mexican food is more attractive than Canada. Last night's TV news headlined the story of a priest and his Hispanic congregation in Grand Forks raising money to build a church by opening Santa Fe del Norte Mexican restaurant. The local tourist bureau gives directions and we are not disappointed. Located behind a music store, looking out through glass walls onto a barely trickling section of the Red River; there is seating for only 20 folks and when we arrive at 11:00 we quickly place our orders. Within thirty minutes, people are turning away because the tables are full and fifteen people are waiting in line. Apparently the folks of Grand Forks are as starved for good Mexican food as we are. Our meal includes huevos rancheros with beans and rice coupled with an order of tacos and another of enchiladas. It may be a long time before we can find good Mexican food again.
While eating we visit with a local restaurant owner who is also enjoying breakfast; he gives us leads on places to see and good restaurants in Washington. After lunch we walk around downtown Grand Forks (pop. about 60,000) and then head back to pick-up the dogs. They are clean and smell sweet, too.
On Thursday we drive to Pembina to see the new state museum and view the valley from the top of a seven-story observation tower, the highest point in the valley.
We learn a great deal about the geology and social history of the area in the museum; the tower is a disappointment. Not near tall enough for a good view; but valley residents are very proud of the structure. Next... Pembina Gorge, thirty miles to the West; this gorge and its great scenery is the draw that brought us to Cavalier. What a disappointment! When we return home, the staff at the state park explains that there is a great deal of reluctance on the part of the locals to develop this privately owned area; the hunting is excellent and the locals do not want the area open to tourists. It is so undeveloped we are not sure we actually found the infamous Pembina Gorge.
June 28 - July 2 Williston, North Dakota...On Friday morning we leave the ever increasing crowds at the state park and head west for Williston on the extreme west side of the state. Our drive includes an overnight stop at Minot in mid-state. We choose the Frontier Gardens Campground because of 50 amp service. Our first impression is positive; there are lots of trees and shrubs and the owner, driving a golf cart, leads us to a camp site. After one aborted stop (we almost sink into the gravel) we choose a more established site with 30 amp service. The campground owner, Frederick Wolhowe, brings us an armload of pink, white, rose, red and wine colored peonies (the size of salad plates) from his garden all the while apologizing for the run down condition of his campground. We talk to Frederick as we set up and learn that he is 90 years old. He and his 88 year old brother live on the grounds. Retired from 20 years of farming and a 30-year career as a high school English teacher, in 1978 he began developing this campground. He is still talking of the distant future; inspirational!
After our supper, he is back with a dozen or so examples of the some 40,000 copies of sheet music from his collection. Later we view his collection of sheet music and records published between the late 1800's and the 1940's; all stored in the basement of his home. He is trying to find a college or university that will take his collection. Upstairs is his 1853 Steinway Square Grand Piano; a beautiful instrument that was a gift from his brother-in-law. A piece done on the "Today" show about the Steinway family indicated that a similar piano was valued at over $50,000; Frederick hopes to sell his for $25,000.
While touring their home, we meet Frederick's younger brother, Otto, a retired civil engineer who spent his career working for the Strategic Air Command. This is the best of RVing; meeting interesting people.
Early the next morning we are on the road for a short 115-mile drive to Williston; we will stay two to three days. The most surprising aspect of this drive is the vast quantity of wetlands that border the highway; mile after mile of small ponds, marshes and lakes. Many nesting water fowl are visible; during the fall and spring migration this area must be alive with ducks and geese. We see many beautiful yellow-headed black birds living in the marshes; the white on the top of their wings is evident when they dart in front of the coach. This is evidently a common pattern of flight because we see many bodies littering the edge of the highway.
The Buffalo Trails RV Park at Williston is an old KOA; well maintained with 50 amp power, 50 cent washers and 25 cent dryers. We decide to stay for three nights. The couple working as assistant managers are SKPs so, we get hugs all around. We also learn that two other couples from Texas are in the park. One couple is from Corpus Christ; where we grew up, the other is from the small town of Mathis just west of C.C. We have friends, Kellam and Ruth Coffin, who farmed for years near Mathis so, Frankie goes to see if the couple in the RV know the Coffins. Surprise, the gentleman and Kellam are cousins; small world! Unfortunately we did not get to visit; they are early to bed and we are late to rise. When we wake up they have left for the Calgary Stampede.
We are still having a hard time adjusting to the long-long days. Last night we walked the kids at 10:15 p.m. and it was still dusk with ample light to read. I'm writing this at 9:00 p.m. and the sun is still well up above the horizon.
While fighting the mosquitoes Monday morning, we explore the Fort Union Trading Post. The National Park Service, using drawings, paintings and written accounts, reconstructed the post in 1985. Originally built in 1827 by John Jacob Aster's American Fur Co. for the sole purpose of acquiring animal pelts from the Indians. With twenty feet high walls, guard towers, cannon and rifle ports on two corners the post was only under attack on one occasion. The US army purchased and occupied the post in I 867 and then in later years used the timber from the post to build a fort at another location.
July 1 - 7 Montana... On Tuesday morning we are once again on the road headed west; the weather forecast is for increasing hot temperatures. We continue to follow US Hwy. 2 although we understand there is continua) road repair in front of us; actually the miles involved are minimal but the quality of the road diminishes.
An aside... we are continually amazed by the varied quality of road conditions as we travel from state to state and within each state. Texas is fortunate to be a state with the money to spend on roads; other states spend their money differently. Driving US Hwy. 2 we encounter very noticeable changes in roadway conditions as we cross county lines; it is obvious which counties have the most (or least) pull in the state capitol. As we drive the 160 miles to Glasgow, our over-night stop, we begin to see small white crosses that mark the location of traffic deaths. Mile after mile we see these memorials; at one location there are five crosses. By the time we near Glasgow, we wish we had counted the number of crosses; there are certainly more than fifty. While the road is only two lanes and in some places has no shoulder, it runs through wide-open country with no major intersections and a minimum of traffic.
Along our route we pass through the Fort Peck Indian Reservation; this two million acre reservation is home to ten thousand Native Americans. The southern boundary is seventy miles of Missouri River. We stop at Poplar to walk the dogs. Across the street is a community center with another small museum; interesting items. Despite the amount of money allocated to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, this tribe is trying to raise $600.00 to purchase an air conditioner for the facility.
On Tuesday night we stop at a well-maintained campground at Glasgow; the Shady Rest RV Park has 40 neatly defined, wooded sites and is clean and quiet with 50 amp service and a friendly staff. The only drawback is the swarms of mosquitoes that attack as you step into the grass; walking the dogs is a challenge. Continuing on to Havre (pronounced Have-er), we count fifty-four white crosses in I 60 miles; that's an average of one death every three miles. At two spots we count seven crosses grouped together. We notice a tendency on the part of Montana drivers to ignore the no passing zones and it is not unusual for a car with Montana plates to cruise past while we climb a hill or round one of the few curves.
Twenty miles of gravel road (under construction) put a muddy coating on both our vehicles. Luckily, we find a car wash that will accommodate the bus and by noon both vehicles are clean and we have hooked up to our campsite. This park, rated 8.5/ I 0/9 by the Trailer Life Campground Guide, has 55 spaces and is a model of cleanliness and organization with 50 amp power but, hardly scenic. The owner has enclosed the entire park in an eight feet high fence to isolate the campers from the highway on one side and the Burlington Northern maintenance yard on the other. Not our idea of a great campground. We decide to order movies from direct TV and wait out the holiday and heat; forecast for 96 today.
Doing the laundry in this campground in interesting; this is the first time we have done laundry in a casino. Actually, it's a filling station, convenience store, restaurant, casino and laundry. Weaving your way past the slots to get to the machines the reward is 50 cent washers with a double rinse and Z 5 cent dryers. The wash cycle takes 35 minutes; I guess they want you to be around the slots as long as possible.
July 6 - 15 Glacier National Park... It is cool again; and we head west. Our goal is Glacier National Park or, at least, a campground on the Eastern edge of the park. We overnight just West of Cut Bank; the mountains occupy the Western horizon. Area farms are three to sixty thousand acres in size but because of minimum rainfall and the practice of crop rotation only half the land is in use each year. The alternating bright green barley and last year's brown fields are akin to abstract art on miles of canvas. Somewhere along the way we pass a fascinating sign that reads, "FRESH EGGS AND FRIARS FOR SALE."
On Sunday we complete the drive to our mountain campground. It's only about seventy miles so we take our time and enjoy the view of snowcapped mountains. Our campground, at 4900 ft and west of the Continental Divide near Marias Pass, has perfect weather. Only 65 sites with water and electric but we are in shade and the scenery is great.
Late in the afternoon, neighbors stop by to tell us of Goat Lick Observation Point; we put the dogs in the car and head down the road eight miles to find out what a goat lick is! At the observation point we stand above the Flathead River looking across the two hundred feet deep crevasse. On the steep slope opposite are eight mountain goats licking the exposed salt deposits; they are amazingly sure-footed as they move up, down and across that vertical slope,
On Monday we visit the Plains Indian Museum in Browning; it has a fine collection of clothing, tools, weapons, and the like. Back to East Glacier for lunch at the Glacier Park Lodge built in 1913. This magnificent lodge has a three-story-high lobby; the exposed support timbers are 42 inches in diameter. All the timbers still have the bark on them with wood paneled walls and wooden floors. Our table by the window provides a panoramic view of the mountains. lunch is fresh-made soup and a hearty sandwich plus cheese cake for dessert (recommended).
Returning to the Bird we meet the Smith's. Ann and Tom, are on vacation with their three dogs. If you think we have wall-to-wall dogs with Hilda and Logan; think again. These folks have three Bouviers: Bear, a 12-month-old ninety pound puppy, a five-year-old who is overweight at 120+ pounds and Lexie, a 12-year-old grand dame who weighs in at a svelte 100 pounds. Well-behaved dogs and a pleasure to visit; we are looking forward to visiting again when we get to Vegas!
July 10 - 15 Columbia Falls... A short but white-knuckle drive away is Columbia Falls and our next stop. Highway 2 curves around the bottom of Glacier park; a good two-lane road with many curves as it descends some fifteen hundred feet to West Glacier. Another small and friendly campground that has the required highway noise. A quick supper at the Huckleberry Patch is over-priced and over-rated (not recommended).
On Thursday we are on the road by 6:30 am and enter the park by 7 to drive the fifty-mile "Going to the Sun Road"; we hope the early hour will lessen the traffic and are rewarded by seeing few cars. This road traverses the middle of Glacier National Park from East to West. While climbing from 3300 to over 6000 feet at Logan Pass and then back to about 4000 feet at St. Mary, it exposes to view some of the most beautiful mountain scenery in the USA The road is narrow, winding and restricted to vehicles of not more than twenty-one feet in length and no more than eight feet in width, including mirrors. The road is book-ended by two emerald green glacier lakes, McDonald on the West and St. Mary's on the East. We see stunning mountain views, glaciers, snow fields, water falls, a solid weeping wall of water cascading onto the road and wildlife (mountain goats, mule deer, and marmoset). We are eating breakfast at St. Mary's Inn by about I I :00 (not recommended). By twelve we are on our return trip; what a difference two hours can make. Scenic overlooks, deserted earlier, are now full and overflowing traffic hazards. Seldom are we out of sight of other vehicles and on the crest of Logan Pass, where road repairs prohibit parking, the road is one lane because of cars parked so that people can take pictures. Further down the road, we watch a ranger insist that an over-length RV turn around and return to the entrance. Why is it that so many people assume that rules do not apply to them?
Today we tour Hungry Horse Dam located about fifteen miles from our RV park. The dam, built during the 1950's for flood control of the North Fork of Flathead River, is capable of producing I 86,000 kilowatts of electricity. The dam spans a canyon and creates a lake thirty-seven miles long and over four hundred feet deep. This was the first dam visit for both of us so it was of special interest.
By the by... Hungry Horse is prime huckleberry country and Frankie finds justification for her craving; the huckleberry is rich in anthocyanosides. These antioxidants and the pigments in the berry aide the color producing apparatus in the retina of the eye and can speed up the production of rhodopsin that affects night vision. Unfortunately we rarely drive at night and I suspect the amount of sugar in huckleberry jam and syrup negates the nutritional benefit.
T.J.'s choice of Glacier Heli Tours (Minuteman Aviation) for our special splurge on Saturday turns out well; the organization, owner and pilots are impressive. Surprising, a one hour helicopter ride over Glacier National Park is enough time; the surfeit of beauty becomes too much, an overload of the senses. It is impossible to describe the magnificent beauty of Glacier Park; the park service does an admirable job of protecting the wilderness from human influence. For us; it is an extra ordinary experience to view our world in a full 360 degree circle and see only craggy mountains with snow and small glaciers. High "hanging" valleys with frozen lakes surrounded by snow and without the intrusion of man-made objects. The one incongruity is the cleared line marking the border between Canada and the US; this looks like a fire lane about thirty to fifty feet wide through some very rugged back country.
July 15 On To The State Of Washington... Our last night in Montana is at Libby about fifteen miles from the Idaho border. Our overnight park is an old trailer park with just 30 amp but it is heavily wooded. Most of the trees are apple, plum and cherry; cherry trees are much larger than we realized. A fellow Texan says hello; he is a professional fishing guide in Rockport during the winter and on the Kootenai River in the summer. According to his expertise, this is an undiscovered area for the fishermen.
Early Tuesday we are on a beautiful stretch of road following the path of the Kootenai river and it is breathtakingly beautiful. Hwy. 2 crossing the panhandle of Idaho is reminiscent of the East Texas woods. Washington scenery is immediately more dramatic and the highway conditions just as dramatically worsen. We hold on for dear life as we bounce our way into Newport and the NACO campground; 4.5 hours to traverse 110 miles. We have reservations for two weeks and Logan finds the golden back gophers intriguing but, that's another story we will save for our next letter.
Colorado and Wyoming in the Spring/Summer of 1995
Wyoming, South Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin in the Summer of 1995
Washington state - July through September, 1996
Travelling along the California coast in the Winter of 1996
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