Yellowstone National Park (Part 2)

July 10, 2015 Categories Camper Van, Road Trips, Travel, USA

We started this morning with a walk around Gardiner, Montana, where we camped out last night. It’s a pretty small town just outside the North entrance to Yellowstone. There were a bunch of interesting shops, mostly catered to rafting and fly fishing, since the town is right on the river. It was after 11am by the time we decided to head into the park.

We stopped in at the visitor center and I, of course, had to get some postcards and one of the National Park “coins”. While we were there we looked at the map and found out it would be about a two hour drive to the South end of the park to check out Old Faithful, which was our main goal for today. It’s only a 48 mile drive, but much of the road is under construction and many other parts have low speed limits. Along the way, there are many pull-offs with things to see and we stopped at a few.

Eventually, we actually made it down to Old Faithful. We got there almost right in the middle of the time between eruptions. It erupts every two hours, plus or minus 10 minutes. We had about an hour to waste, so we walked around and checked out the junk at the gift shops and whatnot. There’s a surprising number of people who sit out and wait for the geyser to erupt. It’s funny to me because essentially we were all just there to see some hot water get blasted into the air. It was pretty nifty and I was surprised that it kept going for around five minutes; I figured it was gonna be much shorter.

We left the park around 6pm and headed out the West entrance, which leads back into Montana to a town called West Yellowstone. It’s a pretty small town and we were able to walk around the entire place pretty quickly. While looking for a spot to park the van for the night, we saw some other campers parked on the side of the road and after talking to them, they told us they were actually staying in a cabin right across the street that night and weren’t using the parking space for it, so they said we could park there. We thought it was really cool of them and ended up thanking them three or four times before we headed back out to walk around town some more.

We had dinner and some drinks at a place called Wild West Pizzeria and Saloon (14 Madison Ave, West Yellowstone, Montana). Pretty darn good pizza, would definitely recommend it to anyone, and they had some live music… even if it wasn’t the best in the world. A group of Chinese tourists next to us seemed to think it was good, and who can argue with that? They went full honky-tonk up in that place.

I forgot to mention it yesterday, but we drove through the Lewis & Clark National Forest on the way here, then later on drove through the Gallatin National Forest, but I wasn’t able to get a pic of the sign. Le sigh.

I have to admit, I thought Yellowstone would have been the most exciting part of this trip so far, but I don’t think it even compares to Glacier National Park. I like all the unique features that are here, but there’s a certain beauty to Glacier that’s hard to beat. I love the mountains, I love the green, I love the cliff-side drive, and I especially love the lake views with cascading waterfalls in the background. Granted, out of all the days up to this point, my favorite has been our random day in Minnesota when we went to the Rusty Bucket and later the Woodtick Theatre. Such a pleasant, unplanned day.

Yellowstone National Park (Part 1)

July 9, 2015 Categories Camper Van, Road Trips, Travel, USA

We started pretty slow today, taking the morning to catch up on some Interneting and then headed over to a Pilot Travel Plaza to enjoy a real shower. It was around 1pm by the time we actually headed out. Around 5pm, we decided to make a pit stop in a random town and do our laundry. Excitement!

Yellowstone isn’t that far of a drive from Great Falls, Montana, where we stayed last night. Even starting as late as we did and stopping to do laundry, we still made it here right before 8pm. We had enough time to check out Mammoth Hot Springs and take some pics before camping for the night. The hot springs are like a whole other world; they’re just so different and interesting. This is my first time seeing anything like it.

We passed Yankee Jim Canyon (aka the Yellowstone River) on the way into the park and I got a little excited because of the history I’ve read about Yellowstone and how it all relates to Forrest Fenn’s riddle. Of course, I only speculate that he’s making a reference to Yankee Jim Canyon. The only way to know for sure is by finding his gold. Granted, I won’t be looking anywhere near the river as my first guess.

Today was the first time someone complained about us “free camping” so, to avoid any extra hassle, we’re camped out in a residential area parked with a ton of other cars on the side of the street.

Glacier National Park, Montana (Part 3)

July 8, 2015 Categories Camper Van, Road Trips, Travel, USA

It was chilly this morning at Logan Pass and it felt great. We spent the morning getting ready and restocking some of our water supply. Around 11am, we headed up the Hidden Lake Overlook Trail, located directly behind the visitor center. It’s a well maintained trail made up of wooden plank walkways and some gravel paths here and there.

The Hidden Lake Overlook Trail is half of the entire trail to get down to Hidden Lake in Glacier National Park. Due to heavy bear activity, the second half of the trail was closed and we were not able to walk down to the lake. The first half is a 1.6 mile well-maintained pathway made up of a combination of wooden walkways and gravel covered ground. There is about a 460 ft gain in elevation throughout the hike.

It was only about a 1.6 mile hike, one way. There’s a second half to the hike that goes down to the lake, but it was closed due to high bear activity so we weren’t able to do it.

We started to drive back around to the East side of the park and were gonna do some more hikes, but almost every pull-out was closed due to road construction in the park. Since we weren’t able to park anywhere, we decided to head out and start the next adventure.

It was a pain leaving the park, as I mistakenly took Hwy 89 the entire way to Browning and part of the road just stopped existing. I’ve never seen a road construction crew that just ripped up the entire old road before putting in a new one. They also ripped up a road’s width of land on each side of the road, so they must be doing something more than just repairing the road.

We stopped for the night in Great Falls and camped out at Walmart. Tomorrow is shower day, followed mostly by driving, as we’re headed out towards Yellowstone National Park to go on a treasure hunt looking for Forrest Fenn’s gold.

Glacier National Park, Montana (Part 2)

July 7, 2015 Categories Camper Van, Road Trips, Travel, USA

Today we spent another day in the awesome Glacier National Park. We started the morning by doing a couple hikes and it ended up taking over most of the day. The fist hike we did was called Trail of the Cedars and wasn’t actually planned, but you have to hike at least part of the trail to get to Avalanche Lake, which is where we were going. It’s a really easy, wheelchair accessible trail that follows a wooden walkway through the forest. There’s a really beautiful waterfall halfway through.

Then we took the junction at the back of the Trail of the Cedars that leads to Avalanche Lake. It’s a two mile hike, but well worth it. The lake is absolutely stunning and we probably spent more time sitting out there than we did hiking to it. I don’t think we got back to the car until almost 3pm.

Adela spent a good amount of time at the far end of the lake trying to skip rocks. It was quite entertaining.

After we hiked back to the car, we took some time to just relax and do nothing. Before we knew it, it was close to 9pm and we decided to head back out and check out Lake McDonald now that most people we off the road. The park is a lot more peaceful at night when very few people are there. We ended up driving all the way back to Logan Pass and stopped for pictures at more than a few spots along the way.

Glacier National Park, Montana (Part 1)

July 6, 2015 Categories Camper Van, Road Trips, Travel, USA

OH. EM. GEE. Glacier National Park is amazingly beautiful. I’m extremely glad I decided to stop here before heading to Yellowstone. It was a pretty brutal drive getting here, though. We drove almost the entire day, only stopping for gas, and we still didn’t get to the visitor center until around 7pm. Of course, the visitor center is closed by that time, so we just headed out on the main road across the park to check things out. We spent the next three hours being awestruck by the views, and that was rushing it. I can’t even explain how intense it is to drive through the park and just experience the magic of the nature here. Almost the entire drive across Montana was filled with fields of nothing (some people might call it “hay”), then as if out of nowhere, mountains broke the skyline and we were tossed into a wonderful world of curving roads, trees a plenty, mountains, snow, waterfalls, rivers… it’s just amazing. It’s around 50 miles to drive across the entire park.

We’re camping out near the West end of the park tonight. Gonna do some hiking tomorrow and probably the next day.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

July 5, 2015 Categories Camper Van, Road Trips, Travel, USA

It was a long drive today to get to Theodore Roosevelt National Park. It’s only around a five hour drive from Fargo, where we were last night, but it’s an extremely boring drive with almost nothing to look at the entire way. Seriously, North Dakota, can’t you plant some trees or something?!

We arrived at the visitor center just before 4pm. I bought a couple postcards and talked with the rangers about back-country camping, but they suggested today was a bad day because there’s supposed to be a storm coming through and I guess lightning is a fairly decent threat out here. Adela hasn’t done much for backpacking or setting up a tent, so I thought it’d be a fun experiment, but it might have to wait until next time. Instead, we took about two and a half hours to drive the 36 mile loop around the park. Along the way we saw lots of prairie dogs, a deer, several pronghorns, five horses, and a bison. The drive around the park is quite nice and offers great views of vast landscapes. My favorite view was from the Wind Canyon Trail, accessible on the North side of the loop drive. The trail leads to a ridge overlooking the Little Missouri River and was quite relaxing to look out over.

I forgot to mention it before, but as of yesterday, I have been to 49 of the states. I’m coming for you, Alaska. Next year.

Fargo, North Dakota

July 4, 2015 Categories Camper Van, Road Trips, Travel, USA

This morning we stopped at an auction on the side of the road in Park Rapids, Minnesota to see what cool stuff they had. I was really interested in an old Coca-Cola bottle tray, but it would have been a long time to wait for it to reach the auction block. There was a lot of other cool stuff, inlcuding a small bike, some old bottles, lots of pictures, a sailboat plate, and tons more. I really want to find an old wall thermometer.

About an hour and a half into our trip we met Alice, an 18 year-old homeless girl, hitching her way to Fargo to meet up with one of her fellow homeless friends. We picked her up in a town called Dilworth and chatted her up on the way to Fargo. She talked about how her and her fellow homeless friends ride trains and tried explaining how the process works, what cars to ride, what’s safe, what’s not, what the bulls look for, and what to do (or not to do) in order to avoid being charged with a felony. She gave us some back story on her life (she’s originally from Wisconsin!) and how her group was working their way out to Washington, then hopefully down the coast of California trying to work odd jobs. At just 18 years old, she’s living a pretty hardcore lifestyle. Many of her friends are similar in age, one of whom we met. His name is Nate, also 18 years old. We hung out with them for about an hour or so at a McDonald’s and then gave them a ride back to Dilworth to meet back up with their group. After parting ways, it dawned on me an Adela that we should have gotten their Facebook info (they mentioned how they had them) so we could keep up with their journey and see how far they make it. Oh, well. Notes for next time.

It was after 2pm by the time we dropped off Alice and Nate. Since we had a few hours to waste, we decided to stop at a Flying J and take a shower. I’ve never taken a shower at a gas station before and although the showers are meant for truckers, they’ll let anyone use them if you’re willing to pay $12. They guy at the counter was cool and said we could pay $12 total instead of each and just take turns showering, but not to let the door close when switching. Once the door closes and no one is inside, the shower is considered over. I’ll admit, the shower was very nice; fancier than a lot of hotel room showers.

After our showers, we went to a nearby Starbucks to do some Interneting and find out where to go to see some fireworks. There were only a couple options from what we found. Minnesota State University Moorhead does a fireworks show and since it seemed like the bigger option, we decided to try it out. We were there for less than five minutes before leaving. It didn’t seem to be an event designed for adults, more of something for the kids. And by kids, I mean lots of screaming 3 year-olds. Instead, we headed over to the fair grounds in North Fargo; significantly better. Other than being more open, there weren’t kids running around everywhere screaming and we got to watch fireworks for over an hour. The entire city seemed to be setting them off. By 9:30pm, the entire horizon provided something to look at. The main event didn’t start until 10:20pm when the professional fireworks went off. I think it was a pretty good way to end the day.

The best part of today, by far, was meeting Alice. I just wish we got her and her friend’s contact info.

Nowhere in Particular, Minnesota

July 3, 2015 Categories Camper Van, Road Trips, Travel, USA

Today was the best day. We didn’t follow the “plan” at all and ended up having a blast without even trying. It began this morning after leaving the Walmart we camped at last night and headed off in the direction of Duluth, Minnesota. After driving for maybe 30 minutes, at most, we stumbled across a McDonald’s and decided it was time to get us some Internets done. Adela made the mistake of clicking “Update” on her iPhone and the Internet connection was too slow to actually update, so her phone was in a limbo mode for the next few hours until we hit Duluth and were able to find a Starbucks that had significantly faster Internet.

We were trying to decide the best route to take and still be able to see a good fireworks display for the Fouth of July. The original plan was to go to Voyegers National Park in upper Minnesota to do a couple hiking trails and from there head towards Fargo, North Dakota. We decided there was just no way to get up that far North, do the hikes, and then drive somewhere to a town large enough to have a decent fireworks show. Instead, we just headed for Fargo and didn’t have a plan to do anything along the way. Litte did we know it would turn out to be the best day of the trip so far.

From Duluth, we drove Highway 2 until it connected to Highway 200 and then we followed that. Most, if not all, of Highway 200 passes through the Chippewa National Forest. Along the way, we came across a small town called Remer and a really interesting looking building called The Rusty Bucket (205 East Main St, Remer, MN – go there!). The building had a large, metal roof that arced from the ground all the way up and then back down to the ground on the other side, forming a half cylinder laying down. It was, of course, a little rusty. On the outside was a giant fish made of bicycle rims and a toilet seat mouth with spikey teeth, as well as cool signs indicating it was filled with antiques, art, and other fun and interesting things. We drove by and decided we HAD to turn around and check it out. Boy, was that a great choice. It had a lot of cool things inside, one of which was an old door knocker with a rooster on it and I decided I had to have it for the van (which is now named Henrietta, by the way). Adela pointed out a very old, very large birthday card with an old man on the front and it said “They say if you give up smoking, drinking, and sex, you might live to be a hundred… if you can call that living!” Inside were a bunch of funny, one line stories someone had written and signed “Love, Carol”. Being that Adela had decided my “spirit animal” was an old man (because I mentioned how I like stories with grumpy old men), I had to get the card. For $1, it was a pretty cool find. Adela found an awesome little guitar and a “bandana”. As simple as it may sound, this shop had made our day and was extremely delightful to come across; not to mention how the owners seemed to enjoy our commentary as we walked around the store checking things out.

We continued West on Highway 200 until we reached Highway 34. Eventually we passed a sign for Paul Bunyan State Park and I mentioned how the Paul Bunyan folklore is pretty huge in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and that they even have large statues representing him and his ox, Babe. We pulled off to the side of the road just as we started entering a little town called Akeley and were looking up where the nearest Paul Bunyan statue was. While parked on the side of the street, we looked up to notice a building across the road with a “Musical Jamboree”. This building was the Woodtick Musical Theatre. We were immediately interested and went inside to inquire about prices. It was only $17.50 per adult ticket, which we thought was a fair price, and the lady at the counter told us about a Paul Bunyan statue just two blocks down the road! We were stoked. We had an hour before the show started, so we set off to the statue to get a couple pics before hand. On our way to the statue we passed a really cool painting of Babe, the blue ox, on the front of a building and shortly after there was a sign painted on the side of a building that said “No Standing, Dancing Only”. We played Eye of the Tiger as Adela showed off her slick dance moves, which seemed to be overly enjoyed by a group of bikers who were passing at the exact moment and gave some honks of enthusiasm.

Less than a block away was a tree stump with what looked like an elephant trunk of a limb still attached and two blue bowling balls on chains bolted to the top of this “trunk”. Needless to say, some jokes were made. Eventually we reached the statue and took pictures.

Anywho, back to the Woodtick Theatre we went. The show was absolutely amazing. Seriously. If you ever go through Minnesota or even anywhere near it, make a stop in Akeley at the Woodtick Theatre and see their show (44 Broadway St E, Akeley, MN; 1-218-652-4200; woodtick-theater.com). Great music, great stories, lots of laughs, and over two hours of entertainment for less than $20. Adela even got a free button (the kind you pin on). We stayed after and got signatures and told them how much we loved the show. It was just an amazing, unplanned event that wouldn’t have even happened if we didn’t deviate from “the plan”.

We drove another 20 minutes and are camping out in a Walmart parking lot again tonight. Tomorrow we should hit Fargo and will be spending the day there doing who knows what and to watch whatever fireworks show they’re doing that night.

Porcupine Mountains State Park, Michigan

July 2, 2015 Categories Camper Van, Road Trips, Travel, USA

Our camp out at the random casino last night worked out great and we were undisturbed the entire night. It was a very comfortable sleep, though it did get a little chilly at some point during the night. We hit the road around 10am and headed for the Porcupine Mountains State Park, right off the shore of Lake Superior. We got in the area a little after 11am and stopped along the beach to relax for a bit and have lunch.

After a stop off at the visitor center, we drove up to the Lake of the Clouds, another seven miles up the road. There’s a really nice scenic overlook about 300 feet from the parking lot. I snapped a few photos of the lake and then we headed out to hike part of the Escarpment Trail that follows the ridge along the lake. We only hiked about an hour before stopping on a cliff on the opposite end of the lake. I think we sat there for a good 45 minutes just staring out at the forest and the water, enjoying the view, and talking about completely random nonsense. Eventually, we hiked back to the van.

There’s only one campsite in the park with modern facilities and we took it upon ourselves to stop over and use the showers. We’d paid the $9 for the daily “Recreation Passport” and figured we’d get the most out of it. It was a nice way to cool off after the hike.

We ended the day by driving to the opposite end of the park to look at Manabezho Falls, which ended up not being as impressive as the post card at the visitor center. It was still cool to see a waterfall two days in a row.

We’re camping out in a Walmart parking lot tonight, so we’ll see how that goes.

Ottawa National Forest, Michigan

July 1, 2015 Categories Camper Van, Road Trips, Travel, USA

We’re currently in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula checking out the Ottawa National Forest and a couple state parks. We were gonna do Isle Royale National Park, but it turns out the ferry ride to the island is like $120 per person, plus $4 per day to be on the island. I have no intentions of spending close to $300 just to visit ONE National Park on a list of many. I’m trying to conserve my pesos, man.

This morning started a little slow getting the last little bit of things loaded up into the van, as well as fixing/modifying some things that I noticed yesterday after driving a little with the drawers fully loaded. When I built the drawers, I bought drawer slides that have the soft-close feature which make them a little more difficult to open for the first inch, as they have to pop the soft-close springy thingy (technical term) in place. Well, with the full weight of food in the drawers it just wasn’t enough to keep the drawers shut going around corners. So, simple fix, I just bought the same door latch clippy things (another highly technical term) I bought for the cabinet doors and mounted it to the inside, top of the drawers. We drove all day today and they held up great. One of the other last minute add-ons was buying a cheap bathroom door mirror from Walmart (like, $5) and attaching it horizontally across the top of the kitchen sink area to use as a mirror for shaving (trimming), brushing teeth, or whatever. I also bought a small, wicked sweet rooster chalk board and mounted that up.

It was around noon by the time we actually hit the road. It took us about five hours to get up to Michigan from where I live in Wisconsin, and that’s including a stop to pick up some extra stuff along the way. We ended the day by checking out Bond Falls State Park inside the Ottawa National Forest. I’ve never heard of it before, but it is a pretty kick ass waterfall. There’s not much of a trail to get to it, but there’s a very nice walkway that goes all the way around it. We spent over an hour there walking the entire thing and I ended up taking over 100 photos, most of which I won’t be posting since a lot of them are similar.

We left the park and camped out at Lac Vieux Desert Resort Casino for the night. Seemed like a good place to stop where we wouldn’t be bothered. Today is the first time cooking in the van, and it went better than I was expecting. Because I’m using the counter top that covers the stove to put things on, I did have to clear it off and temporarily place everything on the bed, but since it doesn’t take too long to cook, it wasn’t that much of a bother.

As I’m sitting here right now, it’s honestly very easy to forget that you’re in a van. I feel like I’m just sitting in my bed at home; it’s surprisingly comfortable in here.