Posts Tagged With: Magpie

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

One Week Down!

Hard to believe it has only been a week since we started on this adventure. This part of the trip is a little bit “off the grid” as we don’t always have easy access to WiFi in camp, nor do I expect to have it in Rocky Mountain National Park.  (Did I just see Bear Grylls??)  I hope folks are enjoying the updates and pictures, although I hear grumblings from my family that we might be overdoing it on the microbrewery samplings. We really aren’t big beer drinkers, but there are so many more craft breweries than we are used to back in Georgia, it just is fun to try a flight and sample some really good brews. And their food selections are pretty unique, too.

Colorado Springs Day 2 (94)

Mountain dog Benji

Time for some shout-outs for family birthdays: Happy Birthday to Courtney and Craig!

So we arrived at noon at Cheyenne Mountain State Park at the base of the mountain that houses the NORAD underground complex. Beautiful state park with very nice campsites that are level, partially paved with a gravel tent pad. We look out on the valley across lower Colorado Springs and Fort Carson (and yes, we hear taps each day).

Looking out over the prairie

Looking out over the prairie

We made camp and quickly headed out to two important spots: US Air Force Academy and the US Olympic Training Center. The Air Force has an amazing campus and with a great location. The chapel is a must-see structure that has this beautiful stained glass glow inside. Very inspirational. It was a quiet Sunday afternoon on campus.

Colorado Springs Day 2 (54)


Colorado Springs Day 2 (52)

Stained glass inside chapel

Colorado Springs Day 2 (53)


Colorado Springs Day 2 (31)

Jackie Wins Gold!

Colorado Springs Day 2 (37)

Team Handball Men’s VP

Back in town we found the USOTC where about 16 years ago (has it been that long?) I spent some time with the US Men’s National Team for team handball. Sometimes a combination of van driver and chaperone during training and then sidelines statistician and assistant during games. I was also manager for the Pan Am Championships at a time when relations with Cuba were still tricky and their “coaches” were definitely watching for defections. Cuba had a strong handball team and was always pretty dominant when they competed.

I showed Jackie around the training center, but much has changed since I was there. The dorms and cafeteria have been upgraded and several of the sports train at locations off-site. But there was excitement building for the summer games in Brazil.

Cheyenne Mountain has been fun for spotting some new wildlife. We watched some prairie dogs along the entrance road, scurrying in and out of their burrows. Birds in the area that catch your attention are the Scrub Jay and Black-billed Magpie.

Colorado Springs Day 2 (91)

Scrub Jay

Colorado Springs Day 2 (72)

Mule Deer fawn

Colorado Springs Day 2 (69)

Look out Benji!

Colorado Springs Day 2 (24)

Prairie dog


Black-billed Magpie (even cooler in flight)

Colorado Springs Day 2 (77)


We were walking Benji around camp after dinner and suddenly came up to a group of three mule deer – a doe and two fawns from this year. They were curious about Benji, but he was definitely NOT interested in them and was pulling at the leash to get out of there. We watched them stroll through the camp without a care. On our trip to Garden of the Gods we saw another trio bounding through town along the interstate. Since the males are in rut, there is a lot of movement of the large hooved critters all through the area. Saw a report of a bull Elk butting a car in Estes Park (and left some pretty big holes in the side of it).

Colorado Springs Day 2 (80) Colorado Springs Day 2 (85)

We also had a great view of the eclipse and blood moon, even though catching it with the camera was not too successful. I will post what I shot, but the best part was actually during the total eclipse when the moon really did look a dark orange/amber color.

Colorado Springs Day 2 (125)

Colorado Springs Day 2 (117)

Colorado Springs Day 2 (115)

Colorado Springs Day 2 (106)

Colorado Springs Day 2 (137)

Next day we combined Garden of the Gods and Manitou Springs, all at the base of Pikes Peak. Garden of the Gods was darn busy, but not surprising since there is an easy, paved trail through the main portion of the park. There are great sightlines all around the park, where the rock formations are just incredible. One hike up to the Siamese Twins was a good workout. At that spot a line of horseback riders was making their way up over the rocks and around us. Pretty cool.

Manitou Brewery

Colorado Springs Day 2 (140)

Lunch was in Manitou Springs (you guessed it, another craft beer brewery) – a town that is quite the gift shop mecca, but you still get a sense of the heady days of Gold Rush fever. We wound our way up to Cave of the Winds for a hike through the cave and all the formations of stalagmites and stalactites.   Barb and Tara would appreciate that there was no belly-sliding and nobody whacked their heads, although the total darkness moments really were weird. Returned down the mountain and back to camp for a change in the weather. A front blew through (and I mean rockin’ the van type blowin) to leave us with cooler weather and some overcast skies today.

Seven Falls Restaurant

Rainbow trout

Broadmoor (37)

Broadmoor (32)

Broadmoor (33)

Broadmoor (10)

Broadmoor (11)

Broadmoor (38)

Broadmoor (30)

Broadmoor (29)

Broadmoor (15)

Broadmoor (53)

Today (Tuesday) we spent the morning at the Broadmoor Hotel and Seven Falls. The falls are a narrow gorge that is really beautiful. The creek that runs through it overflowed pretty bad in 2014 (14” inches of rain in an hour), so the owners sold to Broadmoor and it was redone and reopened. Gorgeously done and crystal clear water. After a mile walk in, we climbed the stairs to the top of the falls for a great view. We skipped another set of stairs that led to a viewing area and instead took the elevator, but it was plenty of exercise, even just going down the steps. Note to self: remember to always carry both camera lenses and bring the selfie stick.

We need to do laundry today and stock up on a few more provisions before we head out tomorrow to Estes Park. That one is going to be a long haul and we will need to get an early start. Showers and storms are predicted for tonight, so we want to secure everything in camp and get as packed as possible.

It seems that something with the convection/microwave oven isn’t quite right and not sure I can resolve this. No heat from the microwave and the convection oven stops every two minutes or so. Checked all the circuits, tried to troubleshoot, but we may be down to the propane grill outside and LP range/oven inside. Jackie used the oven last night, so that at least works. Not sure why the microwave decided to quit.

Off to Rocky Mountain National Park then….

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: