Posts Tagged With: KOA

Bighorn Boondocking

Heading out of Custer State Park our next destination was Bighorn National Forest just outside Buffalo, Wyoming.  One stop along the way was Devil’s Tower Monument, you know, the one made famous in “Close Encounters?”  Since we had been busy watching bison in camp for a few days, we needed another stop at Rapid City’s Wal-Mart for basic supplies, then off we went to Devil’s Tower.

Devil’s Tower and Smoke Ring sculpture

As close as we could get.

The only glitch we discovered was there was very limited parking for motorhomes and trailers, in fact it was at the base of the tower and not yet up to the Visitor’s Center.  Even though we could have disconnected the car to drive closer, we hopped out, took the shots and kept moving.

Devil’s Tower Monument

As we got closer to our destination, I kept scanning the low hills for anything that looked like mountains.  Our campsite was in the Middle Fork Campground and it was hard to see anything that fit the description of mountains, but then it was very, very hazy on the drive.  I couldn’t figure why so much haze and ground level ozone in such a wide open area, but then we learned we were in the path of smoke blowing down from wildfires in Canada and Montana.  As we got closer to Buffalo we finally spotted the mountains looming in the haze… looks like a proper location after all.

Umm, I guess we should shift to a lower gear…

Well, yeah… it was several miles of 7 and 8% grade up, relentlessly. Up, up we went, while the engine temp did the same.  But the outside temperature did the opposite, going from upper 80’s to low 70’s.  Wow, we had a bit of a pause to go downhill a bit, then Jackie shouted, “there, the turn is there –  slow down.”  We exited the highway, across a narrow cattle grate and the road seemed way smaller, in fact it turned into dirt and gravel.  Hmmm, okaaaay…  are you sure this is it?  Oh yeah, the next turn was even tighter, across more cattle grate and less gravel.

Are you sure this is the right way? Can we fit in there?

But the sign announced the campground.  We took a deep breath, drove very slow and across a one-lane bridge, found our gorgeous campsite and decided to disconnect the car and tow dolly and hope there was a turnaround ahead for the motorhome.  There was, and we eased into the site, one that was the BEST ever.  A clear mountain stream rushed along the site and we were in the midst of beautiful spruce and ponderosa pines in a narrow gorge that was now in the mid 60’s.

Great campsite in the spruce and fir forest.

Middle Fork of the Bighorn River, alongside our campsite.

We knew the spot was without electric or water hookups, but there was a handy water pump across from the site, just in case.  Took Kodi off for a walkabout, chatted with the camp host, grilled a great meal, played a game of cards and went to bed with the sound of the stream.  Next morning it was 42 degrees and we were dead on power. The house batteries had drained to nothing and we couldn’t even crank the generator to recharge them.  Ugh.  What went wrong?  I think we forgot to switch the fridge from automatic to LP gas.  It drained the batteries overnight.  So I cranked up the engine (hooray, that worked) and tried to get some charge to the house batteries, but it was never enough to spark the generator or start the fridge, even on LP gas.  So we were without electricity and although we had plenty of water, we couldn’t operate the pump to get it out of the tank.  So the hand pump across from us came in handy for cold, fresh mountain water.

Our campsite was in the wooded gulch in the foreground.

Since we got up way early, thanks to Kodi’s alarm, we took a break to hike out of camp a bit and discovered the beautiful vista we missed the day before: Cloud Peak Wilderness area in the Bighorn National Forest.  It was clear early morning, but within an hour the smoke moved in and you couldn’t see them at all.  Other than that, we totally loved the spot.  We did a late afternoon hike into the wilderness for less than a mile before the elevation got to us (trail was 8,000, camp was 7,400 feet).  We did make a run into Buffalo with the car (down then up the 7% grade) to get a couple bags of ice to put in the fridge.  Total boondocking camping without showers, running water, electricity, heat … oh my, could we survive?

A tribute to the Native Americans who died at Little Big Horn.

The view from Last Stand hill.

We were only in camp two nights and took off early in the morning to see if we could get to our next stop: Billings, Montana and a KOA.  Short detour to see the Little Big Horn Battlefield (Custer’s last stand against the Indians) and on to civilization and an electric outlet!

a Billings KOA (2)

The KOA was actually the FIRST KOA in the world. Very nice facility.

a Billings KOA (8)

The camp sat along the Yellowstone River… how cool.

We made it, hooked up and got everything running again.  Nothing in the fridge or freezer spoiled, in fact the ice cubes were still good.  Lesson learned for the next stop off the grid (which will be Glacier for a week) – we need to check the fridge and be sure to run the generator before turning in at night to be sure everything is charged up.

Lots of hay was being harvested in this region of Montana.

Eclipse Day!  We were off to Great Falls, Montana and figured to be about halfway there by 11:30’s solar eclipse moment.  The route we took was a wonderful 2-lane road that went over the hills of Montana and through the Musselshell River valley, quite scenic.  We still saw plenty of wildfire smoke in the distance, but it was easy to see the many hay fields and sheep grazing around us.  Magpies flew up from the road shoulders as we passed a lot of worn and weathered small towns along the way.

The town of Moccasin, Montana

We stopped in Judith Gap to watch the eclipse, which was around 90% and we had glasses in hand ready to view.  As you can see, everyone in the area pulled off the road to watch the event.

Judith Gap, Montana — where we stopped to watch the eclipse.

The crowd of eclipse watchers left the road and the traffic came to a standstill.

We noticed it was a bit dim outside, but we still saw our shadows just fine.  Ah, well.

Ready with our eclipse glasses … where is the camera?

We made it to Great Falls in time to disconnect the car and check out the three breweries in town, celebrating the “non’clipse” we witnessed.  Mighty Mo, Black Eagle and The Front Brewing were a lot of fun with very friendly people.

Black Eagle Brewing

Mighty Mo Brewing

The Front Brewing

Our campsite was the KOA in town, conveniently located just behind a huge Wal-Mart.  So we are well stocked and ready for our journey into Glacier.

You will notice how convenient the Wal-Mart is to the campsite.

Actually, the view from the other side of camp is quite “Big Sky.”

Yes, more adventures for two former teachers who should know to read and follow all directions.  Blame it on the altitude, we were woozy headed.  Stick with us, as we are headed to Glacier National Park.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Of Rivers and Wildflowers, Part 2

Sunset at F.W. Kent Park

As we continue to make our way to the Badlands of South Dakota, we have had gorgeous weather. The temperatures have fallen into the 70’s and even as low as 55 degrees overnight in Albert Lea, MN. The view from the cab is dark green fields of soybeans with ribbons of green and golden tassels for the cornfields, punctuated by white and red barns, silver and white silos and many white wind turbines spinning against a bright blue sky. Simply amazing. Yes, lots and lots of corn, from Illinois, through Iowa to Minnesota and into South Dakota.

Home for our RV

Up early and out of F.W. Kent park in Iowa, we headed north to Albert Lea, Minnesota, passing through Cedar Rapids and crossing the Cedar River. Not too far along we crossed the Winnebago River and Jackie quickly searched out the Forest City location of Winnebago Industries. Heck, it was just about 10 miles away, so we made sure the motorhome got to go home and visit. Treated ourselves to a new purchase (two Tervis cups with Winnebago design) after touring their visitor center.  But all that corn was getting to Doug, so we picked up some farm-fresh corn at a farmstand and grilled them later that night.  Melt in your mouth good.

Just a little souvenir

Doug got his corn!

We had booked a site at Myre-Big Island State Park for the night and were just hoping for an easy spot near the interstate. A little nervous, since all they had were back-in sites and we didn’t yet want to unhook the car, but couldn’t be helped. Turned out to be an amazing place.

Myre-Big Island State Park

Again, another example of tallgrass prairie with some woodland borders. An early afternoon arrival allowed us time to go for a hike on some well-groomed trails. Gosh, the grass on the trail was far better than my lawn at home. We watched lots of goldfinches on the thistle, but they were too quick for the camera. Tons of colorful blossoms and fruits. Kodi got spooked by some fox scat (droppings) on the trail and we in turn spooked a young doe (yet again the deer). I will let the pictures speak for themselves.

Heading out the next day (yes, 55 degrees overnight!) we had South Dakota in our sights. The interstate was straight, flat and pretty much empty as we drove through the most gorgeous cropland. Once across the state line, we made a stop in Sioux Falls for a visit to the Big Sioux River and the start of our brewery visits.

The park along the falls was amazing to see and the several block walk to downtown yielded Prairie Berry Winery and Miner Brewery. Great spot to have lunch and a flight of three beers each (their Irish Red Ale was the best) and we were happy campers. Made some new peeps already: Alan, Jackie and their son Austin. Go figure, Alan was a high school math teacher and his son Austin had just landed a middle school math job (poor thing). Naturally we had nothing to talk about.

Prairie Berry and Miner Brewery, with street art

Miner Brewing flight

We wanted to sample one more brewery three doors down, Monk’s Gandy Dancer. Jackie was just enoying her bourbon barrel aged brew when in walked our new peeps. So the conversation continued. Good people.

Now that is good public art!

Monks Gandy Dancer Brewery

New peeps!

Late afternoon we rolled into the Mitchell KOA, a typical KOA campground, but it does have full hookups to get us ready for no-water sites the next week. Unhooked the car, and drove to Mitchell to visit the iconic Corn Palace. Have a look.

Mitchell KOA

Corn Palace

Corn murals

We are off to the Badlands for a few days, followed by Custer State Park, so we are hoping for some good wildlife sightings. Catch up with you later.
The adventure continues . . .

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Painted and Petrified

Painted Desert

Painted Desert

We said goodbye to the Grand Canyon and set off out of the park to get as close to the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert as we could. A KOA at Holbrook, AZ seemed to be the spot. We got there about 1:00 and were setting up in our pull-through spot when another, much larger motorhome pulls up to the spot at our front door. Now in KOAs you kind of expect less room around you, but this campground was maybe a quarter filled and we get a neighbor right in front of us?  Well, whadda ya gonna do?

We finished hooking up water and electric, leveling the RV and rolling the car off the tow dolly and Jackie pulled the car up close to park it. As we walked around the picnic table, out came the neighbors living room slide… getting closer, and closer and stopped. Honestly, if we had cranked out our awning, it probably would have hit their motorhome. Not that we planned to spend much time lounging outside our camper, but it just seemed a little “in your face, Winnebago.” So we left the porch light on all night.  Back at ya!

Painted Desert

Painted Desert

Painted Desert

Painted Desert

Back to the sightseeing. Since we were only in Holbrook overnight, we hopped in the car and headed for the Petrified Forest National Park. This was about 2pm. The park is a combination of Painted Desert at the north and Petrified Forest at the south. You exit I-40 and make one big drive through the park – 28 miles. Now the park was already about 21 miles from camp, so this was going to be a quick one if we were going to make it all the way through, north to south, and back another 20 miles to camp. Here is how to do the Petrified Forest on a time crunch: Jump out at the first overlook, “ooh, aah” snap the shot of the painted desert, jump back into car and drive to the next. For some overlooks the car stayed running… but we got the shot.

Tumble of logs in Crystal Forest

Tumble of logs in Crystal Forest

The best spot was the Crystal Forest, an easy mile hike around through lots of logs. These were really quite something. When you glanced at them, you saw bark, maybe what looked like scorch marks, sap and growth rings. Looking closer and touching them of course you find out they are rock – fairly smooth, polished and shiny rock. But all the characteristics of wood are there. Crazy cool. Have a look at some of these and tell me they don’t look like real wood.

Seriously, this is rock.

Seriously, this is rock.

Bark and rings of stone.

Bark and rings of stone.

Petrified Forest 6

Amazing colors of the minerals

Petrified Forest 5

Petrified Forest 4

Petrified Forest 3

In addition to the wild wood, the sandstone formations had a different tint than we have been seeing. White, gray and bluish tints that were nicely striped. Again, something that looks like it belongs on another planet.

Petrified Forest 2

Petrified Forest 1

Petrified Forest

The Tepees

Ok, get back in the car, drive to the next, snap the shot, move on. We got back to camp by 6 and crashed. Overnight we had a little rain, but we got up and outta there early, since Albuquerque was a long drive and our next stop. The drive wasn’t too bad, although I-40 in Arizona is pretty beat, frankly. Lots of rattling and thumping over uneven pavement. You pass through more of the Navajo Nation and a few other native lands, each with casinos and some bypassed trading posts (mostly tacky). Historic Route 66 was in the same corridor as current I-40, so it mostly isn’t there. But there were signs for some bridges, motels and such that were along this storied roadway.

A glance in the mirror showed really dark clouds behind us and we pretty much outran a series of storms until we got to Albuquerque. We had time enough to set up camp before the rain hit, but it rained all night. The mobile home and RV park was pretty much in the heart of town, just a block from the Balloon Festival Park, where they had their big event a week or so earlier. But this was mostly a mobile home park with a few spots for RV’s. We had a nice level pull-through spot, so I can’t complain, but there were waaaay too many speed bumps in and out (oh my, did the camper rock about from those).

Storms approaching!

Storms approaching!

Jackie did laundry just before the storms hit, but ran out of quarters for the dryer, so we had wet laundry hanging everywhere in the camper. Not our best day. We got local news and learned that hail had hit the areas we just left and parts of Albuquerque, but we didn’t get any, thank goodness. Small leak over the windshield, tho, and we have to keep an eye on the drips on the dash.

There were about 6 or 8 microbreweries listed within blocks of our spot, but we really didn’t want to unhook the car to check them out, so we can’t really report on the brewpub scene in Albuquerque (darn). Hey, this unhooking and re-hooking of the car on the tow dolly is getting old, tho.

In the morning we pull out and head to Carlsbad.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: