Great Falls, Montana

I know, we’ve missed a few days since the 28th, but we have an excuse – no internet. We left the air base in Grand Forks and made a long winding run to Medora, ND and the Theodore Roosevelt National Park where we spent two nights. The park is beautiful but I’ll let the pictures tell that tale.

Wild horses
The Badlands
Cactus coming into bloom
Amazing rock formations
Whole herds of buffalo
Incredible vistas
And of course our favorite rodent, the prairie dog.

This is just a small sample but the beauty of the Badlands and the wildlife is hard to describe or capture in a few pictures. And the beauty there is uninterrupted by electronics (no cell service – period). So we unplugged for two days and enjoyed the peace and quiet.

Today we left the park and 400 miles later find ourselves in Great Falls, Montana where we are spending the night in the driveway of a friend we met through a Ford Truck forum. They have been most gracious hosts, feeding us dinner and providing us a place to crash after a long day.

As we traveled from ND to MT the terrain began to change. At first, the landscape was just huge open fields. But little by little we got into rolling hills and more vegetation. Things began to green up.

One can appreciate the phrase “big sky country” after driving across much of Montana.
Rolling hills and more and more vegetation
The approach to Great Falls shows us what the settlers must have wondered at as they crossed the plains. We are headed into the mountains.

We are tired from a long day at the wheel in warm weather. The temperature coming into town hit 91 degrees – not what we expected this close to the mountains. But the weather has cooperated unlike at home, where rain has been the norm. Tomorrow we begin to assault the mountains – Glacier National Park, Kalispell and 93 north to Canada.

Grand Forks Air Force Base North Dakota

Sunday is supposed to be a day of rest and so we only traveled about 120 miles from Fergus Falls to Grand Forks. We again took local roads to make the trip which is more time consuming than the interstate but takes us through the heart of small towns along the way. Unfortunately from a photogenic perspective we are still in farm country – wide open spaces with lots of corn just starting to show. Some small towns along the way do make you smile

One wonders what they were thinking…

Many of the small towns along the way have a population numbering in the tens not hundreds. Not the case with Grand Forks, a beautiful city. East Grand Forks lies in Minnesota while Grand Forks is in N. Dakota. With a population of almost 60,000 it is the third largest city in ND.

Across the river into N. Dakota and Grand Forks

 Grand Forks is large enough to have a significant downtown with a large Cabela’s right on Main Street. The moose statue caught our eye as we passed by. The University of N. Dakota is based here and Amazon has a call center here. The North Dakota Mill and elevator is the largest flour mill in the US. There are lovely parks along the river and an abundance of small, local shops.

Just to the west of Grand Forks is the Air Force base, our home for tonight. As retired military we are allowed on base and permitted to use a campground on post.

A KC135 tanker at the entrance to the base.

The government has decided to base the aircraft that used to fly out of here elsewhere. It is sad for this old soldier to see an airbase with no aircraft. The base is a lovely spot but it doesn’t feel right without a flying mission and it seems almost deserted. During our short stay we saw few people and much of the base feels “empty”.

On this Memorial Day weekend, as we rest in the security of an Air Force base, we remember those who don’t have the security we enjoy and who have taken an oath to protect and defend this great nation. We especially remember those who sacrificed all for our freedom, past and present. Let us not focus on what divides us on this Memorial Day but rather unite in support of those who defend us every day, both at home and abroad.



Fergus Falls, MN

I think we are finally figuring how to slow down and work together on this journey of discovery and renewal. Thirty five years of marriage and we still need to occasionally remember how to work as a team and not as competitors.

We left the Walmart in Albert Lea at about 0800 this morning. But we weren’t alone last night.

The Albert Lea Walmart is a popular spot for we itinerants. We went to bed with one neighbor and woke up with five.

The countryside is getting more interesting as we continue to head north toward US Route 2. U.S. Route 2 or U.S. Highway 2 is an east–west U.S. Highway spanning 2,571 miles across the northern continental United States. Our plan is to intersect with Route 2 on our westerly journey to 89 into Alberta. But the land is still far flatter than our beloved Vermont.

I wonder if they have the same arguments about windmills as we do? These stretched for miles and miles but on flat land with no ridgelines.

One thing we have been frustrated with is there is no way to tell how much gas in left in our propane tanks. We have been on the hunt for a new and very nifty gauge that works with a cell phone app to tell you how much propane is left in your tanks.

Joe’s Campers in New Ulm gets 5 stars from us. They had the gauge.

When I was growing up in Northfield, there was an A&W just beyond Norwich on Route 12A. I have fond memories of real root beer in ice cold mugs – but A&W’s in Vermont are much like the DoDo bird – extinct. To our delight, Minnesota has managed to preserve a small but important part of history.

We had to stop for a root beer and onion rings. It was just as good as I remembered.

Minnesota has an abundance of wildlife and lakes. We stopped at an overlook between Mankato and New Ulm and were surprised to find this nesting area full of birds. Helen grabbed the long lense for the camera and was able to get a decent shot of the island just full of nesting birds.


Did I mention that the roads are straight and narrow?

This stretch was probably 5 miles long without a single curve. One wonders if Minnesotans are just as straight and narrow as their roads?

We have ended the day in Fergus Falls at another Walmart. This spot seems much quieter than the frog infested site of yesterday. We were serenaded last night by a full chorus of amorous amphibians. Tonight we hope for a more peaceful end to the day. A small thunderburst just passed through followed by a rainbow. We will take that as a good omen. 212 miles for the day. -Shawn

Albert Lea Minnesota

Sugar Bottom, site 48.

Memorial Day weekend starts now – and there isn’t a campground to be found that has space so we are in a Walmart Supercenter parking lot for the night. We regretfully left Sugar Bottom in IA this morning. One of the nicest campgrounds we have stayed in. One last look at our site to remind us of how nice it was. But we have  to move on because the campground is full for the weekend. But if you are ever out this way put this on your highly recommended list.

Rex and Shawn discussing the merits of Northstar Campers with Ginger doing what she does best – making friends with strangers.

The highlight of our day today was a visit we made to Northstar Campers, the manufacturer of our truck camper. Rex Willett, the CEO, graciously took and hour out of his day to talk about our camper. He looked everything over and pronounced our rig fit to travel. He then took us on a tour of the plant so we could see how our camper was made. The facility is human scale, nothing like the plants we passed in Elkhart. And it was clear that Rex and his staff truly care about quality and are proud of what they build.

There is nothing quite like happy people making a great product.
All wood frame construction, well insulated, and screwed together. Solid as a rock.
Hand built to high standards. The attention to detail is everywhere you look.

We left Northstar and headed north, ending up here in Albert Lea, MN. A short day on the road but a great day learning more about our camper.

Sugar Bottom Campground, Solon, Iowa

Looking at the map and the number of cities we have to pass through or near, we broke our back roads rule for the last two days. We have put a few miles on the last two days. Last night we spent the night at Indiana Dunes State Park at the bottom edge of Lake Michigan. Tonight we are at Sugar Bottom, a Corps of Engineers campground. In the process we passed through Elkhart, IN, the capital of RV manufacturing. Two hundred sixty-eight miles for Thursday, 5/24 and 399 miles for Wednesday, 5/23.

Interstate 90 took us from Buffalo past Erie, PA, Cleveland & Toledo, Ohio, much of it a manufacturing mecca. While the conventional wisdom is, we don’t make anything in the US any more, the facilities along this corridor belie that rumor. One city in particular caught our eye as we passed by, Elkhart, IN, the RV manufacturing capital of this country and probably the world. From the interstate we could see plants for Forest River and Heartland and lots filled with RV’s either ready for sale or partially manufactured. We didn’t take a lot of photographs because the weather was lousy, with heavy rain and bumper to bumper traffic.

We ended the day at Indiana Dunes State Park at the base of Lake Michigan after crossing into CDST. I’m not sure where it went, but we lost an hour. We can highly recommend this state park to anyone traveling in this part of the country. The park is immaculate with lovely wooded sites, lots of hiking trails, nature center, etc. Lake Michigan reminded us of the ocean, especially on this day. It was a cool 50 degrees and the wind was howling. You can appreciate how the sand dunes were built up when being pelted by the sand blasting wind off the lake. There are reminders at the park of just how ferocious the storms on the lake can be. The pictures tell the story:

A propeller from the wreck

While at Indiana Dunes we got the notion we might be able to make it to Waterloo, IA to visit Northstar Campers, where our Igloo was made. A call to the factory confirmed that we could visit on Friday as long as we arrived early so we made the decision to do another long day on the highway to get close enough to make the visit. We hopped on I80 Thursday morning and drove out of the weather and into the sun. By the time we reached the Cedar Rapids area the temperature had climbed to 75 and the sun was in full bloom, a welcome change from the downpours of Chicago. We now have a fuller appreciation of where our food comes from. I80 is surrounded on both sides by farmland, miles and miles of corn country. Interestingly, one claim to fame is the largest truck stop in the world.

Farmland as far as the eye can see.

We ended the day at Sugar Bottom Recreational Area. This is another highly recommended spot for travelers. Large, manicured sites, lots of trails, nice showers, full hookups if you need them and a large lake for boaters. We were fortunate to be able to grab a site right on the water and had a very quiet, restful night.

The view from our site.

The next few days are likely to be dry camping since we are now into Memorial Day weekend and all the parks will be full. Walmart parking lots here we come. Off to Northstar Campers today. Until later – Shawn.

Syracuse to Niagara Falls and then Erie, PA

We were pretty faithful to our plan to take the back roads today. The sun came out and we were blessed with a beautiful day to poke along the edge of Lake Ontario.

New York is the apple state, Big Apple and lots of little apple trees. Apple trees as far as the eye can see.

We meandered along the lake shore and stopped at a small state park to take break and enjoy the view. 

 Lake Ontario is impressively large and the vistas today were wonderful because of the nice weather. We didn’t bother to photograph the gorgeous and expensive homes along the lake shore but I’m sure you can imagine the money it takes to buy a view like this.

Niagara Falls is also impressive. Photos don’t really do it justice but the perfect weather made for a great visit. We didn’t do all the attractions because we have Ginger with us but we did walk the entire park.

After a few hours of water watching we headed SW and will spend the night in Erie, PA. 299 miles for the day. -Shawn

Berlin,Vermont to Cicero, NY

We have parked for the night at a Cracker Barrel in Cicero, NY. 290 miles for the day on back roads in pouring rain so we can’t entertain you with gorgeous picture of sweeping landscapes. Most of New York we passed through is heavily forested and the clouds were low and dark and the rain was steady so most of what we could see was trees, hills and the winding road ahead.

We meandered across New York on a variety of back roads. If you looked at a map of our path across the state you would think we had been nipping a bit too much at the bottle. 9N, 29, 30, 5, 80, 20 – a potpourri of routes all going in different directions but generally leading us west. How much easier it would have been to hop on 90 (the Thruway) and arrive earlier or go farther. But even with the poor weather there were small towns and villages, each uniquely different, a reminder that before we created the interstate system you actually had to slow down and see the places you traveled through. We have lost much of that sense of place as we zip through the countryside at 70 miles per hour, seeing nothing but the taillights of the cars ahead and exit signs begging us to take a moment and get off the fast lane. -Shawn

Day before departure

The camper is pretty well packed. Clothing, tools, bicycles, electronics, food pretty much on board. We still need to fill the water tank and fill the freezer from our freezer with whatever we want to take.

We are active members of Christ Episcopal Church in Montpelier, Vermont. Helen is on the vestry and I have worked on the property and housing committees. Today was our last service here for a while and we will miss our church family as we hit the road.

It was Paul Habersang’s idea to bless both us and our rig before we began our journey so we drove the camper to church this morning.  His blessing in church made us both tear up because it was heartfelt with the entire congregation joining us in the prayer. I am sure you recognize it.

We then journeyed outside where we gave tours of the camper and Paul blessed the beast. And with that farewell to our church family, we will be off in the morning tomorrow.