Travelling through Wyoming, South Dakota, Minnesota,
and Wisconsin in the Summer of 1995
We reluctantly leave Buffalo, Wyoming behind us and head east on I-90 into South Dakota; a week-long stay at "one of the best Coast to Coast parks in the US." Hart Ranch, located south of Rapid City at the foot of the Black Hills, is a 13,000-acre-working ranch with membership campground, condos and spacious homes adjacent to the golf course. Before leaving South Dakota we visit the infamous Wall Drug, tour Badlands National Park, stop at the Corn Palace and stay overnight at Murdo, Mitchell (Lake Mitchell Public Campground is excellent) and Sessiton, South Dakota.
Our stop at Golden Eagle Campground in Perham, Minnesota (dirt sites, no sewer connections) gives us time for a side trip to Detroit Lakes and Tamarack National Wildlife Refuge. Then we travel to Garrison, pop. 168, and Wilderness of Minnesota Campground adjacent to Mille Lacs Lake, the second largest lake in Minnesota. Garrison has three campgrounds, three restaurants, a grocery, beauty/barber shop, two bars, and six bait and tackle shops. Frankie celebrated her birthday with dinner and gambling at the Ojibwe Grand Casino and blew $10 on electronic poker. T.J. enjoyed an evening fishing on board a charter boat (local term is launch) on the "Walleye Factory"; unfortunately he did not have a nibble. The Captain apologized for the smallest catch of the summer.
Quadna Resort near Hill City is our next stop; just 18 miles from Grand Rapids, Pop. 8,000. Hill City, Pop. 469, has a million mosquitoes, one restaurant, a gas station, post office and Hill Lake. Not surprising, at least for Minnesota, Grand Rapids' home county of Itasca has 1,000 lakes. On to Mille Lacs Lake Island Resort at Wahkon for a week; an excellent campground with grass for the dogs and lots of trees for Frankie. We're about two miles from the town of Isle; the largest town, Pop. 600, on the lake. The last week in August and the Labor Day week-end we are spending in a new RV park at Hinkley, Minnesota; owned by the Grand Casino-Hinkley.
The Twin Cities of Minnesota shows us its best side, the weather is perfect and we enjoyed a week without the infamous Minnesota bugs and perfect weather. Then on to Madison Wisconsin and a visit with Bill and Lyle.
The weather gods continue to smile on us with few exceptions. At least that was the case in South Dakota. Enough rain to keep things green but not too much until... Wahkon; raining for five of the seven days. TJ gets a bit of cabin fever confined to the RV with Frankie, two dogs and a cat. Moving across the Dakotas we flirted with hot weather but, nothing like August in Texas. While we used the air conditioner (or at least Frankie did) the temperature seldom reached 90 degrees F. In northern Minnesota we had several days with Texas humidity and the locals complain that this is the hottest summer in a long time. The Twin Cities newscast announces each night the total number of summer days over 90 degrees and the citizens seem thrilled with all 18 to date.
The staff at Tamarack National Wildlife Refuge indicates that 40 and 50 degrees below zero is not an uncommon winter temperature; if the sun shines the temperature may rise to 25 degrees F. Mille Lacs Lake is 20 miles long and 18 miles across; we find it hard to imagine the ice village with a fish house count of 5,500 in January of each year. Natives talk about the winter sports much more than summer activities; in this area the tourists mess up the summers. Bulletin! Our last week in Minnesota temperatures are 50 to 72 degrees F; TJ is taking full responsibility for delivering "perfect weather." We may complain about the bugs, but the weather has been super most of August in Minnesota; but September has been ideal, cool days and cooler nights.
Equipment & Housing Problems
In Buffalo, Wyoming, we found an oil change shop where we had the oil changed on both Bird engines, main and generator, had the chassis lubricated and all for less than $40. We talked to an owner of a Euro-premier who spent $188 for the same service on his Detroit diesel. While Frankie was on a shopping trip for buffalo the Saturn developed a transmission problem. Saturn's road service towed the car to the Twin Cities and Frankie returned to Hinkley for dinner at the Casino with Mike and Heather who rescued her at North Branch Minnesota. The left front HWH leveler on the coach leaked for a month until we had a new control valve installed at Camper World in Rogers Minnesota (Twin Cities suburb). CW has electrical hookups for coaches so we stay for three days (no campground expense). Saturn delivers the car to us at CW, freshly vacuumed and washed with a new solenoid valve; if there must be car problems at least the extra courtesies are there to make Life a bit more pleasant. September 19 in Wisconsin brings freezing temperatures and we discover one of the six heaters is cranky. Turned off the propane to the kitchen heating until we reach Mike and Leslie in Houston; they are going to be busy!
We continue to see grandparents taking responsibility for their grandchildren during the summer months. Usually because of both parents working and the kids expressing resentment of day care. We have also seen many families who are members of Mennonite sects. The women all wear white head coverings, no make-up and long skirts. The men are in black with straw hats
We have heard on several occasions that Bluebird owners are not very friendly. We have met some who certainly would not win any popularity contest but at Hart Ranch we met Dick and Betty from Oregon who shared a dinner table with us at the Alpine Inn in Hill City South Dakota; the conversation was great and the food very good. We haven't had that many good meals in restaurants since we left Houston; in truth the only other good meals were at White Fence Farm with Bill and Bobbie Flint's family in Denver and Prime Quarter in Madison with Bill and Lyle. We are beginning to appreciate Houston's good restaurants.
Received the sad news in August that Bob Lemons died suddenly. We met Bob and Joyce on one of our "practice" runs while we were in Houston and traveled with them to San Antonio. We planned to travel with them again; we will miss Bob. Once again, we are reminded of why we are on the road now and not "next year."
After weeks of greeting the natives of small towns in Minnesota and being ignored, we have arrived in the Twin Cities area and find that the big city is much more friendly! Fellow RVers continue to be our salvation, rescuing us from loneliness with their hugs and helping us with advice and suggestions. Dick and Rose Trudeau are Minnesota natives and full-time RVers plus Escapee members. They give us campground leads, a new message service, the TT broker, and friendship. At Camping World we meet Corny and Judy Groth who are Twin City natives and we enjoy several hours of their company. TJ and Charlotte from South Carolina share problems; they are also new to the lifestyle. Jan, Chris and Dakota (Australian Shepherd) from the Tampa area of Florida walk the dogs while we are away from the campground; such a relief to know they are safe. Hilda has a wonderful time running with Dakota at Lebanon Hills.
To our minds, Danbury, Texas has only one claim to fame: Mrs. Hayden and her stuffed shrimp, crabs and flounder but then we met Jesse and Michelle Cook at the Dells; Texans are very friendly and it is good to see their smiles.
Privately-owned campgrounds continue to be a surprise; Trailer Life Campground directory may rate them high but it is still a crap-shoot. Ouadna Resort is lovely but neglected; it has a motel, condos and a small RV section. The resort is almost empty so we do not have to share the space with many RVers. The golf course is beautiful and has only a few people on the course each day; a shame we do not golf. It seems that the membership campground industry has more than its share of corporate thefts; this is the third resort we've visited that "some company officer" ran off to Mexico with more than a million dollars. Church of God purchased after three years in receivership and is beginning to bring the resort back to life.
On our Thirty-fourth anniversary we gave ourselves a Thousand Trails membership. We purchased through a fellow SKP (Escapee) in southern Alabama who brokers for individuals wanting to sell their memberships. This is a big business in the world of RV'ers; too much to go into in the newsletter. At any rate, our membership plus modest yearly dues will allow us to stay at some sixty campgrounds throughout the U.S. When we decide to stop "full-timing" we hope to sell the membership and recoup some of our original investment. The advantages to TT are first-rate campgrounds and an 800 number for reservations. Our phone bill is far too high so we are investigating alternatives.
Visiting the Minneapolis / St. Paul area convinced us that our next trip to Minnesota will include a lengthy stay at Lebanon Hills County Park; clean, level gravel sites, paved roads, grass area for the dogs. We are only five minutes from the Mall of Americas and adjacent to the Minnesota Zoo and Park Wilderness area. The Minneapolis Tribune Sunday newspaper sustained Frankie throughout the six weeks we were in Minnesota; how she loves a liberal newspaper.
Arrowhead Campground in the Wisconsin Dells is over-priced and heavily wooded with the added feature of 5"-deep-sand on the roads, walkways and campsites. Madison Wisconsin has three county campgrounds (two closed for the season); but Mendota Park is on the lake, wooded and clean (no sewer). We had some power problems and blew one of the campground circuits; our fault, with the help of a fellow camper. We learn how to use a 5D amp line, with a 30 amp adapter, plugged into a 20 amp adapter plugged into a 20 amp plug (installed upside down) that actually has 30 amps of power for our use. Isn't camping fun?
Impressions / Sightseeing
The colors of the landscape continue to astound us. We now know where the pastels in Indian pottery originate; the colors are straight out of the Badlands. In eastern South Dakota the varying shades of green in the corn, soy bean and other crops contrasting with the gold wheat fields and the yellow fields of sun flowers are truly magnificent.
The trip up the "back way" to see Mount Rushmore was one of the high-lights of the Black Hills stay. The road was planned and built to show the carving of the presidents from different perspectives. There are four short single-lane tunnels along the route and each tunnel exit frames the presidents; the view is quite breath-taking. The road includes four "pig-tail" bridges, unique to the area and designed for the sharp curves. The bridges are constructed of large curved round timbers hence the name "pig-tail." Our visit to the monument was brief because of the number of people crowding for a view we will visit another year before Memorial Day or after Labor Day. A view of Crazy Horse Mountain on the trip home completed the day. It's so big that Crazy Horse's arm as it points toward Mount Rushmore is over 100 yards long. Already more than 1O million tons of rock have been moved.
East of the Missouri River the ranch land gives way to farming. All the farm houses and barns are bordered on the North by rows of protective trees; another reminder of the hard winters. The silos at each farm have rounded tops that soar above the surrounding trees; with their brightly colored tops they are reminiscent of hot air balloons. We cross the "wide" Missouri river at Chamberlain, South Dakota and enjoy the rest area on the high bluff with a panoramic view of the river. Perfect weather, sun shining, breezy and stunning scenery.
Minnesota is indeed the land of ten thousand lakes. When is a body of water a lake? The Minnesota definition is any body of water that is spring fed and self perpetuating, regardless of size, is a lake. With all the lakes, ponds and wetland areas the insect population is huge! The mosquitoes are so bad that even the dogs are disturbed. We are currently looking for a fogger and a screen room so that we can enjoy the "outside" with the pleasant temperature and beautiful surroundings.
A visit to Tamarack National Wildlife Refuge proved to be a memorable afternoon. It's located just north of Detroit Lakes, Minnesota. A stop at the Visitors Center for a slide show and pictorial display then the drive-yourself tour through ten miles of lakes, wetlands and arboreal forest. This is where we are introduced to the term "straight-line wind" that is the Minnesota description for high winds of 80 miles per hour or more that seem to occur with devastating frequency. We saw the result of 120-mile-per-hour straight-line winds at Tamarack that tore individual trees out of a grove as if they were toothpicks. Even with all the water, forest fires are still a problem. During early August a "camper" in the Boundary Waters Canoe area, not far from the Boy Scout canoe base, left a campfire going that within two weeks consumed over 13,000 acres.
The Forest History Center in Grand Rapids is a "living history" representation of a logging camp circa 1900. The logging of White Pine was reserved for winter so that "ice roads" could be used to move the cut timber to the rivers for a summer float to the saw mills. Much of this history sounds like the clear-cutting in east Texas. Camp conditions were primitive; we marvel at the human animal and its continued existence. The Percheon horses are beautiful and are as prized today as in the past. Their living and working conditions in the early 1900's were far better than those for the men and women in the logging camps.
Near Grand Rapids, the state has assumed ownership of an open-pit iron-ore mine that closed after sixty years of operations and almost 64-million-tons of iron ore. The pit is so deep that the San Jacinto Monument set in the bottom would not reach ground level. Mike, a truck driver in the mine for thirty years, was an entertaining and informative guide in the two-hour train tour of the mine.
The town of Hinkley was destroyed by a forest fire in 1894; only a few people were saved in a daring rescue by an engineer racing his train ahead of the fire. There are two open-air ice hockey rinks in Hinkley hardly recognizable in the summer. Little League Hockey? The current controversy in Hinkley is the city council closing the city owned bar and package store without citizen input. The latest issue of the local newspaper devoted a great deal of space to the controversy. A talk with the city librarian gave us a better understanding of Minnesota law concerning liquor sales; for many small towns the sale of liquor is a major source of income.
Throughout the state of Minnesota there are small Indian reservations; the land involved is usually less than 100 acres. Many of the tribes are developing casinos on their land with hotel accommodations and in some cases an RV park. The Grand Casino at Hinkley utilized a wrinkle in state law to locate the casino office on the tiny plot of reservation land and the balance of a sprawling resort complex on adjacent farm land. We were told of one tribe (Sioux) where each family receives $10,000 in monthly profits. Much depends on the tribe elders as to the use of the moneys earned; some tribes are plowing all the profits into educating their young people and acquiring land, banks and other businesses. Smart young Indian lawyers and accountants are using the laws to their best advantage. Talk is that some Minnesota natives scream with horror at the amount of money the Native Americans are realizing from their business ventures.
We took off on a day trip without the dogs to find our mail (addressed to Gen. Del., Theilman, MN) and it turned into an all day adventure. Is any one surprised that Theilman is listed as an active post office in the PO directory after being closed for three years? The story is that the sixty-nine residents did not want to change their address so they all know to go to Kellogg. Evidently they have at least five campers each week (staying at Whippoorwill in Theilman) looking for their mail. At least we got a chance to visit with Dick and Rose again and buy cheese at the Cheese Factory in Nelson, Wisconsin. Kiss off the low fat when you are in cheese country; it is truly grand. Have you ever eaten cheese curds? Each night the news coverage of the 1995 State Fair mentions fried cheese curds. We did not try the fried but the fresh curds (less than 24-hours-old) are wonderful and a treat that I'm glad we do not have to resist every time we go shopping. Sinful excess. Also bought some fresh, just picked, raspberries; unbelievably good. Our search for mail gave us a chance to survey the rolling hills and steep bluffs of Eastern Minnesota along the Mississippi River. Beautiful country and worth another visit.
The Wisconsin Dells is a beautiful area, unfortunately the town looks like a Disney Joke; an extreme example of tourist trap! Christmas Mountain is a great Coast to Coast campground; and since the temperature is freezing (September 20) there is the temptation to curl up with a good book and drink hot chocolate. We rode the "ducks" and toured the countryside and Wisconsin river this afternoon. The US Army Amphibious Duck was built in 1943 during World War II. It is 31' long, 8' wide, and weighs seven tons. The duck maneuvers through the steep trails, deep ravines, and rugged rock formations; and with the same ease they give a smooth ride on the river.
Madison lives up to everything I have read; a beautiful town with the capitol building and oldest section of town situated on an isthmus between Lake Mendota and Lake Monona. Madison has a diverse population and is home to the state government and the UW (University of Wisconsin). Lyle served as tour guide through State Street (closed off to traffic) that runs from the capitol to the University Campus (8 blocks). The shops and restaurants are almost as interesting as the people on the street; with the sun shining and 60 degrees everyone was out to see the sights and be seen. For us it was like a trip back to a hippie heyday; grunge (filthy dirty, torn and odd pieces of clothing), ancient hippies (clean of body, gray of hair with headband, tie-dyed shirt, bare feet), punk (underage with boots, fish-net hose, bare cheeks, purple crew-cut hair), and college students with every form of dress possible (including three cornered colonial hats). Diverse.
We will spend the balance of the week touring Wisconsin with Bill and Lyle and then on to visit with friends in Kingsland, Georgia.
Colorado and Wyoming in the Spring/Summer of 1995
Iowa, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, and Washington State - June through July, 1996
Washington state - July through September, 1996
Travelling along the California coast in the Winter of 1996
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