Friday, September 30, 2016

GTT Days 56-60

Update to the Update: Fooled you! We decided that we would go back to the gas station and use the wifi again before leaving Winchester, ID. We're definitely on the home stretch. Only two more long drives before we get home! Meanwhile, we go back in time several days...
September 25 - Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Madison campground, Day 1.
Today is Thom's birthday, number 66! Hopefully an auspicious year. I won't catch up to him until November. But that's just fine - I can wait.
We got started at our usual early hour but the fog was pretty intense over the rivers and some of the fields where it was especially damp. We nearly ran into several herds of whitetail deer by the side of the road. They get so confused as to which way they're going, no wonder so many become "road pizza". We also saw our first non-road-pizza skunk scurrying beside the road on the way out of the Medicine Lodge campground. No smell!
We travelled across a large chunk of Wyoming, through Cody, home of the original Buffalo Bill, and through the very scenic Shoshone Canyon. The trip through Yellowstone's East Gate and the high Sylvan Pass was clear and sunny. It was pretty cool up there though. We headed to Madison by way of Canyon so we could visit the Dragon's Mouth:
I wish you could hear it roar! And see the tongue of water lapping out at each steamy breath.
We also stopped at Yellowstone Canyon itself at Painter's Point to see the falls:
So beautiful! And so busy with people all getting in each other's way to photograph the gorgeous scenery. After that it was off west to Madison campground which was to be our base for the next 3 days. We were lucky we had made reservations from Badlands because it was posted full for the whole time we were there. We didn't go too far that evening, only down to the confluence of the Firehole and Madison rivers near the campground where we saw some elk relaxing across the river:
We nearly always see some elk in this meadow every time we come to Yellowstone.
September 26 - Yellowstone NP, WY, Madison campground, Day 2.
This morning was really chilly, only 4 or 5C in the van! We were warm enough in bed but luckily we had our propane heater handy. We used it to warm us up enough to get up and dressed and have breakfast before we headed down to Old Faithful to walk the boardwalks and watch geysers. After all, that's what we're here for! The weather heated up pretty quickly in the sunshine and soon became a rather hot day.
This is Daisy. For once she went off right when we got there and was early so nobody else was there but us:
She only goes off twice a day within a fairly large window of several hours so sometime you have to wait for quite awhile. We usually manage to miss her because she's quite far away from most other thermal features in the area. We also watched my favourite Anemone go through her tricks. Here she is aquiescent:
There's two vents that play off each other in varying order and at the end each goes "down the drain" with a sucking sound. It stays quiet for 7-10 minutes and then starts up again. Very fun to watch and try to predict which vent is going to act first. The main front vent can blow as high as 5 feet for several minutes. It's even pretty when it's not doing anything at all!
Another favourite is Sawmill. It performs more often than it's quiet. It sounds like a mill - whomp-whomp-whomp - and spirals up from the centre:
The water droplets were sparkling and of course I got my usual "geyser kisses" from him! Not too hot this time, thank goodness.
On the way back to camp we saw a number of bison herds. This one was all relaxing very close to the road:
September 27 - Yellowstone NP, WY, Day 3.
This morning was slightly warmer than yesterday morning but we still used our heater to get us up and going. There was definitely frost on the picnic tables! Luckily it warms up a lot later in the morning but the cooler air means that the thermal features get rather steamy:
This was up by Grand Prismatic Spring, a view of the extensive bacterial mats. You couldn't really see much of Grand Prismatic for the steam and the hordes of people photographing everything in sight. I settled for the edge of it and its orange mats:
Under that steam the colour is a rich turquoise! The only way to really view this spring is from the air  though. It's just so huge, the biggest spring in the park.   Next we went to Old Faithful again and watched it go off from a distance while standing in front of Anemone:  
Then we toddled over to Grand Geyser, early because we missed it yesterday. Of course today it was not only late but outside it's window. We ended up sitting there for 3.5 hours chatting to our neighbours and hoping each time Turban went off (every 20 minutes) that Grand would go too. Finally it decided to go and it was really spectacular:
Note the rainbow! This geyser is actually 3 in one, Grand, Turban and the Vent on the left there. The show went on for quite awhile too and we were glad we hadn't given up and left prematurely. After all, once you've wasted a couple of hours sitting and waiting you might as well go all the way, right?
We had a lovely time geyser gazing! But tomorrow we're off again.
September 28 - Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park, Montana.
We had only a relatively short hop today. We travelled north and a little west through farmland and sagebrush country. There was a very long section of roadwork near Quake Lake where we had to wait and wait for a pilot car to follow for several miles through the pass. The weather remained sunny which was lovely. We've been to Lewis & Clark Caverns a number of times so we didn't go up to the cave tour this time. Instead we rested and read books and had a hot shower (the first in what felt like forever!) and generally lazed about in the warmth.   September 29 - Winchester State Park, Idaho.
We got up to a lovely sunrise this morning:
Unlike yesterday, today was a very long drive. A large section of it was very scenic though. We went west of Missoula and through the Bitterroot Mountains on a winding road that went up over Lolo Pass and followed several rivers. Then we went around south and then north again over another pass to the Camas Prairie. Our campground is on a lake very close to the sleepy little town of Winchester. We walked the trail that goes nearly, but not quite, all around the lake. In winter it's a cross-country ski trail so it's quite wide and relatively flat. The lake as a number of "arms" so it was about a 6.5K walk and we were the only people on the trail. Everyone else we could see was fishing from one of the many docks. The lake is full of migrating Canada geese. These ones were marching past our campsite:

So cute! But noisy. Aside from the geese it's pretty quiet here because they are closing the campground in a couple of days. Good thing we're nearly home before we run out of camping options, huh? Not to mention good weather. Oops, should I have mentioned that?

Thursday, September 29, 2016

GTT Days 53-55

September 22 - Custer State Park, South Dakota, Game Lodge campground, Day 1.
It was back to the usual early morning rising today, though not with quite as long a drive ahead of us. We saw lots of pronghorns and some farmed bison on the way to Rapid City. We had to stop first at yet another NAPA Auto Parts (4th one?) to pick up a set of chains for the van. We may not need them but since our tires are getting pretty worn down, they just might be useful if winter shows up before we get home. Plus a few groceries were in order as well. Then it was on up into the Black Hills on the road toward Mt. Rushmore. The weather wasn't fabulous with fog in the high places so it's a good thing we saw the famous mountain before because we only caught a tiny glimpse. Instead we headed down the very fun Iron Mountain Highway with the pigtail twists and tiny one-lane tunnels. I didn't get any photos for you because I was too busy recording videos with Thom's iPhone for him!
We had reserved a campsite online which is the only way to do it apparently, unless you phone a reservation in. Dumb system but at least you know you have a spot. The campground is small but very nice and the cottonwoods and aspens were showing their full golden leaves in honour of autumn. After we checked out the new visitors centre across the way and watched their film about the park we got settled in. The paved Creekside Trail was a tempting walk too:
We saw turkeys and deer:
The place was lousy with them! Can you spot the turkey to the above-left of the gambolling deer? I kind of thought that Custer would be a bit Disneyland-ish if you read all the blurbs but it was actually very nice. No wifi anywhere though. Boo.
September 23 - Custer State Park, SD, Day 2.
It was raining and foggy the next morning, our second day in Custer. We decided to take the Wildlife Loop Road that began very close to our campground. The trees colours were even more intense though some of the views were obscured by the misty rain and fog:
We didn't see a lot of wildlife but the loop road was very scenic. Next weekend is their annual buffalo roundup so we were surprised not to see any bison at all. But we did run across these characters hogging the road:
The donkeys are feral but very spoiled. This one decided that our van looked good enough to eat:
Thom caught this shot while it was licking the door! Yuck. We probably should have held off our drive because it cleared up later in the afternoon and got quite hot for awhile. Unfortunately later in the evening it clouded over again and began a thunder and lightning storm that went on all evening. We acquired this young Two-Prong neighbour who hung out for quite awhile beside us:
He looked kind of interesting through the rain-soaked window.
September 24 - Medicine Lodge State Archaeological Site, Wyoming.
Today is going to be a very tough one to write up since it feels like we stuffed at least 3 days into one! We started at our usual early hour and drove up the Needles Scenic Highway. Our first encounter (besides the inevitable turkeys) was a lone female bison in the woods. I tried to take a photo but she flipped around and growled at us so we were forced to keep moving before she decided to butt heads with our van! Too close. Sorry, hon'. The road was nothing short of amazing in the morning sunshine:
There we are! Twisting and turning and going through a couple of very tight tunnels:
Nearly hit the side mirrors on that one. And this one I ran out ahead:
Tight, no? Right after this tunnel is the iconic Eye of the Needle:
So huge it's nearly impossible to capture. Then it was down and down and around some more and north to Lead (like the mineral they mine there) and then through yet another gorgeous scenic byway, the Spearfish Canyon. I sadly just watched the amazing scenery go by and didn't take any photos but the light and the golden and rust turning trees were spectacular!
Once we got to Spearfish we ended up on the I-90 heading ever west. The weather deteriorated again and became rainy and windy making it not much fun to drive in. Kind of a let-down after so much beautiful scenery. But that's not all! After Buffalo, Wyoming, we headed up into the Bighorn Mountains on what was supposed to be another scenic byway. This is what we got:
Almost the whole way through to Ten Sleep (love that town's name). It snowed enough to call out the ploughs but at the worst it was only about 4" deep. Hah. And the main road was clear. Just reminding us that winter is coming, right? No need to try out the new chains yet though.
And that's not all! We headed north from Ten Sleep and into the sagebrush and farmland to our final destination. It took us all day but we were surprised to find a lovely little campground as well as a fabulous stone cliff with petroglyphs and pictographs, layered on each other:
You know how much I love petroglyphs! A whole wall full:
We didn't get much time to explore though since it kept raining on us and we needed to make dinner before we fainted. And of course it got dark. Looonnng day.   Update: I finally have wifi in Idaho but you are going to have wait until I get home for the rest of the story! The suspense is killing me. Heh.  

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

GTT Days 50-52

September 19 - Blue Mounds State Park, Minnesota.
It was a long long drive diagonally across Minnesota mostly on a small two-lane highway. It was even longer because there were two closed sections of the road that we had to take big detours around. We got to see even more of the nearly endless Minnesota farmlands than we planned! However we also went to Pipestone National Monument, only a half-hour or so before our planned campground. It was really interesting. This is an area with a layer of a beautiful red stone that was discovered by Native Americans hundreds of years ago. It's relatively easy to work and was traditionally used for making ceremonial pipes. On top of the stone are a number of layers of very hard Sioux quartzite which is also very pretty and has been used in more recent years for building. To get to the pipestone, the quartzite has to be removed laboriously by hand. We went on a walking tour of the site to see some of the quarries:
It's a sacred place and only the tribes can dig for the stone. The walk also included a lovely little waterfall:
And cliffs of Sioux quartzite with really decorative lichens growing on them:
I particularly loved this stone stairway to the top of the waterfall:
The display centre had an area where artisans worked on pipestone pieces and I bought a turtle button which I'll have to show you later since it's all wrapped up and put away. They show a really informative film on the pipestone and it's significance to the aboriginal people too. Well done.
Not so well done was our experience at Blue Mounds. It was quite late by the time we got there and there was nobody there. Signs said they want you to reserve 3 days ahead by phone or Internet. What? We just stuffed the requisite fee in the envelope and took a spot! Any spot. They had shut off the water except for the toilets because of E. coli, we never saw the bison at all and we were nearly eaten alive by tiny little biting gnats that insisted on working their way around our bug screens. Bleh. Not nearly as nice as we remembered from our last visit 3 years ago. 
We also had a couple of mechanical issues for Thom to solve. The other headlight went (the first one died in Nova Scotia) and the water pump on the sink refused to work. We had found a NAPA store in St. Cloud for the replacement light so after fixing that quickly Thom was left to fiddle with the water system. Luckily his Magic Touch worked and we have water access again.
Wildlife viewed:  deer (we nearly hit one!)
September 20 - Badlands National Park, South Dakota.
Another long drive but this time on an Interstate freeway. Boring! But quicker. We are now in our 8th state and crossed another time zone into Mountain Time. It finally feels like the West! Badlands is incredibly beautiful in an otherworldly sort of way:
It was also very hot and windy so we spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing in the shade. Too hot for hiking trails for us! I nearly burned my hand just opening the door of the Ladies washroom. Ouch.
September 21 - Badlands, Day 2.
We had a second day to explore Badlands and were surprised to wake up to clouds and much cooler weather. That meant that we could take our time and not have to rush to hike before it got too hot. We drove along the scenic road down the length of the park and then turned around at the west gate and stopped at many of the overlooks on the way back:
Photos just can't convey the incredible beauty of the worn layers. My favourite part is Yellow Mounds:
The layers shade from bright yellow at the bottom to red and then to the more subtle greys toward the top. We also got stopped several times along the road by these guys:
Excuse the imperfect through-the-window shots. Why do I always end up with sheep butts instead of faces? Don't answer that...
We also saw pronghorns and deer and possibly bison in the distance. Could have just been cows though. We have yet to see bison up close this trip. The mourning doves, meadowlarks and bluebirds are keeping us entertained in the campsite too.
As for our hike, besides the short Fossil Trail we only did part of the Castle Trail this time:
It's a game of Follow-The-Red-Trail-Markers since it's not always easy to see where people have walked before you. Even just the little ways we went was very cool:
Instead of viewing the pinnacles from afar you get to walk among them:
It was perfect to go with the cooler cloud cover. Good thing it didn't decide to rain though! 
Tomorrow it's off to the Black Hills.  

Sunday, September 18, 2016

GTT 48-49

September 17 - Lake Gogebic State Park, Michigan Upper Penninsula. 
It was still dark when we left Brimley at 6:30am. We ran into the usual early morning patches of fog too. The Upper Penninsula is really quite lovely and the trees are actually starting to turn giving us a hint of the glorious fall colours that we won't be around to see. We stopped at a rest area on the Agate River that had a short trail to a waterfall. But I liked the underside of the old train trestle better:

I couldn't quite capture the interesting rust though.
Lake Gogebic is much further west than Soo and just over the time zone into Central so we actually gained one of our lost hours back. It's a big lake:
We walked the forest trail across the road from the campground but it was very muddy and not particularly photogenic. Anyway I was too busy trying not to go splat! We had to wash our footwear off at the water tap when we got back. The weather finally decided to stop sprinkling on us then so after a shower we relaxed and watched the lake and the falling leaves for the rest of the evening. Just before we went to sleep the full moon came up over the lake. It was so incredible but I just couldn't get a photo of the effect. In the morning the sunrise was in the exact same place. It was a really special view from that campsite.
September 18 - St. Croix State Park, Minnesota.
Another morning's drive with patchy fog but it soon cleared up and became a lovely day. We drove on side roads through tiny towns and lots of forest into Wisconsin and across to our 7th state, Minnesota. The St. Croix River is right on the border between the two states and is a National Scenic Riverway. We only had time to see a very little bit of it:
As well as canoeing there's lots of trails in this park, many of them multi-use for bikes, horses and hiking. We walked a short way along the bank of the river and then back along the bluff.
Wildlife viewed in the last few days:  white-tailed deer, many wild turkeys, sandhill cranes, a coyote, a bald eagle and an osprey.
We found unadvertised wifi in the park store. As always we have no idea when we'll find it again! Tomorrow we'll cross Minnesota diagonally down to the southwest corner. Another step closer to home.  

GTT Days 45-47

September 14 - Algonquin Provincial Park, ON.
I know I had some issues with the last post that I sent from the satellite wifi at the visitors centre in Algonquin. Sorry the spacing wasn't better but I can't fix it now. It is what it is!
Speaking of Algonquin, it's a beautiful park, the oldest provincial park in Ontario:
From the deck at the visitors centre. You can see that there's actually a hint of fall colour here! We checked out the excellent displays in the centre which included the natural habitat and the history of the park. It turned out that several of the campgrounds were closed but we ended up at one near the centre just off Highway 60. Our campsite was very close to a large lake but we couldn't see it for the trees! Oh well. It was quite late at this point so we just had dinner and gave up any attempt to explore further.
September 15 - Chutes Provincial Park, ON.
Now this park has everything we like: this time of year it's nearly empty, with a reasonable-length trail, waterfalls, bridges and hot showers. Perfect! The river was historically used to bring lumber down to Lake Huron - hence the "chutes". They are long-gone but the lovely waterfalls remain:
The Twin Bridges trail takes you over a couple of the falls and platforms give you great views from different angles. We enjoyed walking the trail and viewing the autumn forest and colourful mushrooms. We were pleasantly tired when we got back to camp.   September 16 - Brimley State Park, Upper Penninsula, Michigan.
Well, we discovered that we were nearly out of propane for the stove so that was a top priority of the day. It's not that easy to get it filled since it needs an auto-propane system and someone who is willing to lie on the ground underneath to connect it! Thom always makes sure to tip the person really well afterward for their efforts. We saw a sign on the highway near Sault Ste. Marie for a service station that filled RV propane so even though it was a kilometre off our route we decided to take it. Good thing we did because we haven't seen an appropriate vendor since! Now we're good for the rest of the trip.
We crossed the bridge between the "Soos" and got a great view of the St. Lawrence Seaway locks that allow the boats to move from Lake Huron to Lake Superior and vice versa. Right after that we went through US customs again without a hitch. We have decided that our enhanced driver's licence/ID that we got before we left home works much better than passports do. If they have it, you can wave your cards at the reader before you pull up to the customs officer and he has all the data on you already on his screen. It includes a lot more information than your passport has. As always we were careful not to have any meat or fruit or veggies on the banned list. So of course that meant we had to go grocery shopping. Luckily I had written out the directions for the supermarket in the US Soo and also the way from there to the state park.
We were a bit surprised that it's actually quite busy here. And we got a walk in along the long sandy beach at the edge of Lake Superior at Whitefish Bay:
We went beyond the park boundaries but there's no problem if you keep to the beach and don't trespass on private property. The water is very shallow and quite warm still. Nobody was swimming though!
Now at supper time the weather has changed and it's pouring rain on us. Thom left the awning partly out so we can leave the window open tonight. Tomorrow it's off to explore more of the Upper Penninsula. Continuing west. No matter what the weather we're on the homeward run.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

GTT Days 41-44

September 10 - Acadia National Park, Maine, Blackwoods campground.
We left Fundy in drifts of fog but with a gorgeous red sunrise behind us. The road led us to the main highway that went past the city of St. John and down to St. Stephen where we crossed quickly and uneventfully into Maine. The roads were pretty quiet this early on a Saturday morning, at least until we got to Ellsworth, the nearest town to Acadia. Then it got very busy especially since some of the main roads in town were being replaced. Road work! We get stuck somewhere several times every single damn day.
We were very low on supplies so we picked up a bunch in town before heading down to Mount Desert Island, through Bar Harbor and south to our campsite. Luckily we had reserved 2 nights before we left home because it was full! After getting settled we walked down the trail to the park's scenic loop road to see the view:
We had a good time watching the diving ducks and the endless beauty of the waves. That was about it for our first day in Acadia.
September 11 - Acadia NP, day 2.
Today dawned rather hot and sticky but overcast. It had rained a little in the night too. We decided to take advantage of the free shuttle bus and take it into town. Bar Harbor is your classic seaside tourist town. Streets of cute little shops flogging souvenirs and food:
Plus picturesque hotels and B & B's. Here's the schooner Margaret Todd that was tied up to the dock plus a cruise ship that was anchored out:
You can see what the weather looked like, can't you? Not nearly as nice as yesterday.   
We were determined to have something with lobster for lunch so we went to the same place we ate at last time we were here:
It was very windy so we sat in the covered deck area. I had a lobster Cobb salad:
And Thom had a lobster roll:
Plus he had a beer and I had the most delicious margarita. Big yum!!
By that time we had walked all over town, stuffed ourselves silly and were waddling back to the bus. Luckily it was waiting at the stop because just as we got inside the heavens opened and thunder and lightning flashed! One flash hit the lightning rod on the top of the fire station right across the street from us. Yikes! I jumped about a foot and let out a squeak it was so loud! The bus driver complained that his seat was wet because he took too long to shut his window and several people who were waiting for a different bus came in to get out of the rain. It didn't last long however. By the time we got down the road to Sieur de Mont it was only sprinkling. 
Sadly the museum and the nature centre at Sieur de Mont were closed but we enjoyed the garden very much. All the plants are native to Mount Desert Island and each one is labelled, just the way I like it:
Everything was wet and very green:  
I love identifying everything! Then we caught the bus the rest of the way back to camp. It takes the scenic tour around part of the loop road first which gave us some nice scenery to ogle. We found the bus system very easy to use, the drivers friendly and helpful, and even though they have regular stops they will also pick you up or drop you off wherever you want on their route as long as it's safe to do so. Not bad for a free service! Sure saved us trying to find parking in the busy town anyway. Two thumbs up.   Since we had been to Acadia in 2013 and stayed longer then, we had already seen all the sights and weren't unhappy that we didn't get to see as much this time. Apparently it's one of the most visited national parks in the US and I can't imagine how crazy it must be in July and August.   September 12 - New Discovery State Park, Vermont.
Today was a long drive so we got up even earlier than usual and hightailed it out. We had to cross all of Maine and New Hampshire plus part of Vermont before we got to this gem of a park in the Groton National Forest. The park guy, Don, actually remembered us from 3 years ago! Of course he was a big help that time with our bad oil change problem and finding another shop to change to the proper weight of oil. He was glad we had made it home safely and very happy to see us again. How sweet!
This time it wasn't raining and we weren't all stressed out with car trouble so we were able to hike the trail around the lake:
Can you see that the trees are just starting to turn? They're going to be spectacular in a couple of weeks or so but sadly we can't wait around that long! The trail was quite a challenge, covered in roots and glacially smoothed rocks but we made it all the way. I loved this plant:
I have no idea what it is but the leaves are quite large and it seems to be quite common. Anybody know?
September 13 - Voyageur Provincial Park, ON.
This was another one of our multi-state/multi-province jumps. We started in Vermont with another morning of sunshine and drifting fog. So pretty! We crossed to the western edge of the state and then north across the Lake Champlain Islands. The road crosses a series of causeways and bridges linking several of the large islands together. It was a really lovely drive and we were glad we went that way even though it was slower than taking freeways all the way. At the top of the island chain we turned west into the very top corner of New York and crossed over the border into Quebec at a little side road. Once we got back to the freeway though it was big roads all the rest of the way, sneaking south of Montreal and heading over the toll bridge on the St. Lawrence and up to the Ottawa River. Our campground is just inside the corner of Ontario and overlooks a small bay in the river:
We watched a boat dredging back and forth across our bay in front of us and found out they were scraping off the tops of an invasive European water chestnut species. Only diligent work has kept it from taking over the waterways.
Then we went for a walk. Some of the trail is mowed grass and some is in the deep forest. In winter it's all cross-country ski trails. We surprised a lot of these on the grassy part of the trail:
Can you see the frog? It's a big one, larger than the palm of my hand, but it blends in pretty nicely. We also walked over the boardwalk in the marshy part:
It would be even prettier if we weren't being munched by mosquitos while we were trying to enjoy the view. Not surprisingly we ended up sitting in the van with all the netting up when we got back to camp.
Tomorrow it's off through Ottawa to Algonquin Park and maybe some wifi to send this with at the Visitors Centre. My fingers are crossed.