Folks here are REAL Friendly…..

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We headed north to Duluth; which is a port city on Lake Superior; which is the “hugest” of all the Great Lakes.  The plan is to begin here and to stick my toes in each of the Great Lakes, as we make our way around them.  We planned for a 3-day stay in the area, but as we’ve come to know, plans are tricky things!

We completed our check in at the office of the Buffalo House RV & Camping, Restaurant, Bar, Banquet Facility, Shuttle Service and Sports Complex (somehow this name reminds me of the Regent Park, Golf, Practice Facility and Conference Center – Dan) just a few miles outside of the city.  We  made our way down to our camping spot (the last one they had) where we were hoping to once again have access to satellite TV.  Sadly we quickly discover that space 29 is both long and narrow, and is sheltered on both sides by mature trees, complete with full summer tree canopies.  So alas, TV will remain delegated to the weak 6 local channels that feature continuous reruns of every 50s, 60s and 70s sitcom that ever aired; “woe is me” (so says Wm. Shakespeare).  The nearness of the trees presents challenges for not only our satellite reception but also the passenger side mirror (the tree wins over the mirror) and with opening of the dining slide (the tie down strap wins over the tree branches that now look like a tightly wrapped bunch of carrots).

Shortly after the mirror met the tree, Carol hopped out to make sure the trailer was in off the road and as she turned to check, she ran into the arms of our “real friendly” new neighbor Alan, who inquired: “Are you our new noisy neighbors?” as he embraced her in a large bear hug and welcomed her as “Debbie”.  Only when she corrected him, that her name was Carol, did he retreat back to his campsite, looking a little bewildered.  Upon reentering the RV she told Dan that the people here are “real friendly”!

A few minutes later, Alan came back over and explained the error of his ways, mixing us up with some friends of theirs from their internet motorcycle club “The Venturers”.  Alan was expecting Malcolm and his wife (Debbie) whom he’d never had the opportunity to meet before.  To balance the tables, Alan’s wife, Kathleen gave Dan a great big welcome hug too!  We had a great laugh and we were both sure we’d just made some new friends with this fun loving couple!  As it turns out, Alan’s motorcycle club just so happened to be headed off to see the Apostle Islands on Monday (which was also, so conveniently on our bucket list for this stop) and he invited us to join his group at the informational meeting on Sunday night and for the club’s two rides planned for Monday and Tuesday.  The club was founded around the Yamaha Venture motorcycle, but the club doesn’t restrict participation based on what you ride, so the group welcomed us and the “other woman” (Dan’s Harley) into the planned first day of the ride.

Once we completed our camp set up, we grabbed Finnegan and took a quick drive into Duluth to catch our first glimpse of the Great Lake Superior and to get a lay of the land.  The lake is GA-NORMOUS and the city is clearly built around the working port area.

Canal Park is “tourist central” and the place was packed with tourists doing all the touristy things they do.  We showed Finnegan the great statue of the “Determined Sailor” steering his ship in a storm, we watched the aerial bridge raise for a sightseeing cruise ship and checked out all the exhibits at the Visitor’s Center (located adjacent to the bridge).  There are a bunch of local (and chain) restaurants and hotels in the area.  Plenty of things for everyone to do in this small 6 block area.

Upon our return to the campgrounds, we decided to stop in at the Buffalo House (et al), where we ordered a Bloody Mary cocktail.  And it is here in the story that our main characters learn that here in Minn-EE-so-ta, things are a little different that elsewhere in the country.  You see, a Blood Mary here is served with a “snit” of beer, just a little glass for the taste.  The patron has the option to a) opt out of the snit; b) drink the beer before, with, or after the Bloody Mary or; c) add the beer TO the Bloody Mary (which was the bartender’s recommendation).  So we did “c” and you know what – it was great! We’re going to have to school our bartender friend, Matt with this new found information on our next visit to our favorite tavern in South Carolina!

Bloody Mary and a Snit of beer. Who knew?

Bloody Mary and a Snit of beer. Who knew?

The following day we took a drive up North Shore of Lake Superior, opting for the little road that followed the lake instead of the expressway for about 20 miles.  Along our drive we took in the beautiful homes and views and we eventually ended up in the town of Two Harbors where we enjoyed lunch, a walk through the chalk art sidewalk gallery and then we visited the lighthouse and breakwall before winding our way back home.

Monday morning dawned (damn) early as we had to be “kickstands up” by 6:45 AM (that’s even before God wakes up, when you’re retired) so we could make the 90 mile ride to the pier at Bayfield Harbor in Wisconsin in time to make the boat!  Five bikes left the Buffalo House and two exits up the road.  We met up with the rest of the group and all in all fourteen bikes took off just after 7am across what could be the country’s shortest interstate I-535 (2.78 miles) with our sites set on an island cruise (a 3 hour cruise – just so you can get your mind going for the next blog post :)).

 

Minneapolis and the Holy Mall of the Americas!

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Our loose goal for the remainder of this year’s trip is to allow Carol to “toe-dip” in each of the Great Lakes as we make our way back toward the Eastern US.  With that in mind, we are heading toward the largest of the Great Lakes, Lake Superior.

But first a few days in the Minneapolis area.  Our KOA is the nearest to the city, but still about 15-20 miles out.  Our first evening, we explore the nearby area and the following day we “drive about” Minneapolis and St. Paul to get the lay of the land, checking out various points of interest, like downtown, the ball parks, the city parks, etc.  On the third day, we decide to brave the famous Mall of the Americas.  Every road in the area (and in the north half of the USA) is under full straight up construction during the summer, so be sure to pack your patience because the wait time is trying on any man’s soul.

The mall has ample parking and from the outside it feels not so large, which is an illusion based on how the parking is laid out around the mall itself.  Once inside one of anchor stores, it still feels pretty normal, and even out walking through the mall, it’s not too overwhelming until you reach the Lego Store on the bottom level of the mall!  OMG!!!

Our sole grandson LOVES Legos!!  He loves to build them, he proudly displays them once they are built and then he regrets (just a little) that he finished them so quickly.  When I rounded the corner and saw this store, my mouth dropped open!  As I wandered in to the store, I was really, really wishing that he was there with me and then I turned around……holy moly!  There is a two-story high wall of individual Lego pieces sorted by color in individual bins!  How he would have LOVED to have seen this place.  I think that if his parents ever tire of him, they could drop him off here and he wouldn’t mind so much.  As I gathered my wits and went out of the store, I realized that there were giant Lego display pieces hanging above the store: there was a Transformer robot, a helicopter, the Batmobile and even an astronaut all hanging above the store in the open space that is the 3rd and 4th stories of the mall.

In fact, the entire lower level of the mall is an amusement park!  Complete with rides, lots and lots of rides, big rides, little rides, roller coasters, games, etc.  And for the low low price of $32 per kid, you can shop alone while your kids play without a care in this massive wonderland!  I really want to be 8 again, just for a day or two.

Following our day at the amazing mall, (complete with lots of retail therapy), we drove back the 14 miles of interstate to our RV park through the massive construction zones and are happy to report that we arrived home just an hour and half after we stared out from the mall; that’s an average speed of 11.2 miles per hour (for those of you without a calculator). Traffic (and construction) suck in Minneapolis!

Bismarck, Fargo and “The Chipper”

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Somewhere along the road on this trip, we’ve decided to try and visit as many states as possible.  Since we were so close to this as of yet, unvisited destination, we decided to give North Dakota a whirl!

The road that crosses the state from east to west is long and straight and long and straight long and straight and long and straight long and straight and long and straight and long and straight and long and straight (you get the idea).  It reminded me of the Canadian we met last year in Glacier who told us that central Canada is so flat you can watch your dog run away for a week!  You can do that here too, while driving across the state.

We stopped overnight in Bismarck in the overflow lot of the local KOA campground on the outskirts of town.  The strenuous driving day took its toll on us and we succumbed to just eating Thai food for dinner from a food truck at the entrance to the campground and we chilled out for the evening.  The food was great, and we slept well under a nice rainstorm that lasted until morning.

Our next stop, Fargo.  Please tell me you’ve all seen the movie!!!  (Yah, he’s in the Chipper!).  Fargo is the most populated city in the state of North Dakota (I’m sure its because of the movie).  The capital, Bismarck, is actually the second most populated city in the state.  Thank God for Google on these long straight drives…..

The North Dakota Visitors Center is just off the interstate, and lucky for us, it’s on the same exit as our night’s destination – The Walmart Super Center!  As we come off the road, the first business we see is the Space Alien’s Bar and Grill, way too funny a site!

After we’ve gotten set up for the night in the local Walmart parking lot, we take Finnegan and drive back to see the famous “Chipper”!  There is a nice parking lot with a park in front of the building and a replica “Chipper” is on display in the park.  We took some birthday photos with Finn in the (replica) chipper (as tomorrow will be his birthday; and I’m truly not a bad pet parent).  The real chipper from the movie is located INSIDE the Visitor’s Center, where pets are NOT allowed. Is it just me that’s hoping that even the real chipper wasn’t really used to kill that guy in the movie by really, really killing him in the chipper?  If not, then I’m not thinking this is something that the folks at the Fargo Visitor’s Center should be touting (just in case some local pregnant law enforcement officer drops in…….) hey, maybe that could be a sequel!

Sometime after dinner the alien’s took over control of our car and we ended up at the local Space Aliens Bar and Grill for a beer and to take in the National’s baseball game.  The place was “outta this world”ly decorated with everything you can imagine that is alien.  The bartender and patrons were friendly and we enjoyed watching the ball game with them all there.

Early the next morning, we awoke safely back in our Earthly coach and after making some minor trailer repairs (using the Walmart curb) we were off for today’s next adventure!  Dan here, adding a very exciting newsflash – The booze in Fargo is cheap!  No kidding, when we were in Elkhart Ridge, I thought it was a good deal that they had booze in the little grocery on site.  That is, until I sent Carol up to buy a bottle of Tequila so we could make some Bob-a-ritas – $30.95 for a 750ml bottle!!  Yeee-ouch!  When I saw the same bottle in a Fargo liquor store for $14.79 I just had to buy it…the ‘Rita’s in both places tasted great!  Thanks, Bob.

Spearfish, Sturgis, “Ride Sally, ride”!

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Spearfish, Sturgis, “Ride Sally, ride”!

With our Sleep Number bed on order, (with sales tax added 😦 based on our delivery location) we moved on down the road toward South Dakota. Our destination here was the Elkhorn Ridge RV Park. The OUTSTANDING park was “the cat’s meow” (for those old enough to understand the term). It is Bou-ti-fullllll! All the spots are wide, paved, exactly level, with lush lawns, shade trees, great shower houses, and laundry facilities, a general store, swimming pool, tennis and basketball courts, cabins, disc-golf course, hiking trails and a HUGE dog park!!! This is the place you want to stay if you’re ever in the area. The place rates a 12 on the 10 scale as far as amenities and the friendliness of the staff. You really should just go see for yourselves! Bring your camping rig, or rent a cabin. It’s worth the drive! It’s worth your time, it’s the model for what ALL RV parks should be like! I Love it here!!!

Dog parks are near and dear to my heart these days, as Finnegan LOVES to be off leash (and that doesn’t just happen easily, since he runs at about 20 miles per hour when he is). This dog park is subdivided into “Little Dogs” and “Big Dogs” section once you’re inside the fenced in area. Finnegan quickly determined that he is a “Big Dog” as he immediately ran into the larger enclosure area to begin his “run-about”. The playground was his favorite and we visited it daily during our week-long stay in the area.

We arrived about a month earlier than the 75th Annual Sturgis Bike Event simply because:  a) we were here now and  b) the price of everything skyrockets during the actual event. The area in and around Sturgis has great roads for riding with beautiful scenic drives and great small towns to stop in along the way. We spent most days touring the area on the motorcycle and Dan took us out to see the world renown Full Throttle Saloon one afternoon, where a live, full grown (real as can be) jackass greeted us just inside the door. I think he’s there in honor of the many other “jackasses” who visit the bar during bike week. The guy just wanders around in and out of the building at will, and the sign on the bar clearly states: “Don’t be ass and don’t feed the jackass” or some such thing.

Even through we’re early for bike week, there are lots of people “previewing” the area with us. The locals tell us that they are expecting up to 1,200,000 people to descend on this area for the big event and that accommodations are already booked for 100 miles in every direction of the event, at sky-high prices. Many of the locals in this area even rent out their homes for prices that cover many month’s of their mortgage payments while they drive off to visit places that are not part of the big week-long event!

We spent the 4th of July in the small town of Lead (pronounced Leed) for the fireworks show and met up with of the locals in the area who provided us with great recommendations for things to do in and around our travel route. We enjoyed a great dinner at the steakhouse inside the historic Franklin Hotel in Deadwood one evening and walked the streets of the town another day, taking in the touristy sites and seeing the location where Wild Bill Hickok was shot, a very long time ago.

With the utmost sadness, we packed up (because alas, the resort would not allow us to stay longer, due to being booked up for the big upcoming Sturgis event). I can’t even imagine what the spaces go for in this great spot during bike week, but I’m thinking it’s thousands of dollars for a week in our space. With a tear in each of our eye’s – Dan’s because he loves riding here, Finn’s because he no longer has a great place to run, jump and chase tennis balls, and mine because I’m sure that another such beautiful RV park may not exist we began making our way East; we slowly leave for our next new state destination – North Dakota.

The Grand Tetons, Jackson Hole & the Oldest KOA

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Our next stop was Jackson Hole, WY (a destination leftover from last year’s bucket list). We were surprised to learn that the city is actually just called Jackson. According to Wikipedia, the “Hole” applies to the valley located outside the city and was given the notation from fur trappers eras ago when they hiked in from the north to the region, as it appeared to them that they were hiking into a hole. (Your welcome for your free worthless trivia tip for the day).

Unlike last year, we’ve experienced some difficulty securing accommodations this summer. Dan reminds me that the cost of diesel was well over $4 a gallon last year, which may explain why we had so much “luck” securing any spot we wanted during our 2014 US Tour. This summer we’ve found fuel as cheap as $2.45 a gallon.  Big difference on how many other wanderers are out and about with us this year!

The only campground we could find with a spot in this area was about 35 miles north of Jackson near the junction of Moran. We got a great view of The Grand Tetons driving out to the place, but needless to say, we were in the middle of nowhere when we finally arrived at our destination. The campground was pretty much a cow pasture with some dirt roads cut in. The vehicles were parked pretty much on top of each other and the rates were outrageous for the stay. But since we were without options, we endured; it’s what we do.

During our time here, we explored the national park, which is of course, spectacular! We grabbed an impromptu picnic lunch on Jackson Lake in the park, amid all the “Watch for Bears” warning signs and Finnegan played on the shores of the lake on a beautiful sunny day.

We drove back into Jackson for groceries, retail therapy (Didn’t I mention that someone in our group had a “hankering” for a new iPhone 6? The “hankering” has now ended…..) and we had dinner overlooking the the town’s square (complete with stacks of antlers at each corner of the park). We had a drink at the world famous Million Dollar Cowboy Bar where patrons “saddle up” on real saddles instead bar stools before meandering our way back out to the RV.

Someone in our group (not me) has also decided that another stop in Sturgis is in our near future, so we left out for the motorcycle “mecca” traveling through both The Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Park en route to our next destination, Billings, MT (where there is no state sales tax) for a new Sleep Number bed and an new Apple laptop (I’m all done with Microsoft!); before heading on to Spearfish, SD.

The Billings, MT KOA is the first ever KOA in the country and as such bears the designation of “#1” behind it’s name. This is where the brand started and this park was quite nice. The spots were large level and paved, there was a restaurant on site along with a play ground for both kids and dogs. There was an always packed swimming pools (just kids) and a miniature golf course. The place was conveniently located to town and it was a great stop for us.  Dan here:  I should mention that this KOA also has a dubious distinction – hundred of Cottonwood trees scattered all around the premises, and man, they must’ve been molting, for sure.  The top of our trailer looked as if it had been tarred and feathered by all the cotton droppings, as well as having scores of cotton-balls dragged into the RV creating quite the mess.  Oh well.  Something else happened here that was a first.  A guy pulling a new 5th-wheel with a new pickup turned the wrong way in the parking lane, and lodged a 300 lb rock under his RV, dragging it halfway around the parking lot before it became unloaded and rolled out along the lane.  Boy, was he pissed!  Even after the maintenance guy told him he’d turned the wrong way, and that’s what the big white arrows pointed on the roadway were for.  Oh well.

Dan’s efforts at playing some golf here, were thwarted though. One day while out driving on the city’s Skyline Drive, we decided to just drop in on a highly rated course in the highlands. Our GPS lead us into the middle of a dead end street in the middle of a residential neighborhood where the GPS voice announced: “You have arrived at your destination.” Except we hadn’t. Dan made a quick call to the pro shop to clarify the directions only to be informed that the very beautiful course was private. The very kind woman in the (imaginary) pro shop recommended another course across town, across the interstate and located in the foothills on the other side of the city as an option. As we drove over, Dan called to confirm that they could take a “walk on” and he was assured that they could fit him in. I dropped him at the front door of the pro shop and took off for what I thought was going to be a free afternoon, only to turn back around after about 10 minutes because the golf course was not able to find Dan’s name in the list of “member’s only” who were allowed to play this course. He pouted all the way home……

Salt Lake City

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With our “family time” almost at an end, we headed up to Salt Lake City where Houseguest #1 would leave us to fly to NYC to begin her life in the big city! We arrived two days before the scheduled flight, and easily located what would be our new home at the SLC KOA and then headed out to take in the city sites and grab some lunch at a great place called the Red Iguana. Even though we arrive well after the lunch rush, the line was out the door. The hostess told us it would be at least 25 minutes, so he hoped back in the car, and checked out the sites and “cruised” the world famous LDS Temple grounds. Sliding right back into our bench at the door to the restaurant just as they called our name for lunch! Whew!!

On our last night together we enjoyed a fabulous dinner at StoneGround restaurant in downtown SLC. The food and the service were fantastic! They offered patio seating and served fresh pasta. The company and experience were both outstanding!

Out to dinner in Salt Lake City.

Out to dinner in Salt Lake City.

Following dinner, we stopped in at a local pub establishment where they were playing bingo. One of the rounds ended in a tie between three people and Bingo caller gave each of them a white board and a pen and explained that the “tie” would be solved by contestants each drawing a picture on the white board and advised that we, the audience would select the winning drawing and the Bingo winner. The catch was that, the drawing would require the artist to incorporate a penis into the drawing. He called this game “Dic(k)-ionary”! He then asked the audience to shout out a word…the word shouted out was helicopter and the participants frantically began creating their artist renderings with the required insertion (pardon the pun). Totally fun and funny, and laughter could be heard at least a block away from the place.

Very early the next morning, we dropped our daughter off at the airport. She began a new phase of her life and we began our extended stay in the area.

Finnegan took in both “the spa” and the vet at the local Petsmart, The humans leisurely strolled all of the lanes in the local Costco and we picked up some much needed replacement parts from a few other stores for needed repairs to rig and trailer. We enjoyed a week at the location with lots of projects and lots of much needed down time.

While in Salt Lake City we took a ride out to Park City just to see what the hub-bub was all about.  It’s really another world from SLC – as where SLC seems like an industrialized, dusty, dirty city, Park City is a laid-back (but fairly modern) beautiful mountain town with shops, bars, and restaurants (not to mention world-class skiing in winter).  We decided to have a look at Zillow when we got back to the coach just to see if something there might be affordable – I don’t think $1.2 million for a 2/2 condo is really affordable – do you?

I’d have to say that all in all, SLC is one place we’d rather not have to visit again, although the trip over the mountains to Jackson Hole was pretty scenic.  More on that in the next post.  All for now.

Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks

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So where was I???? Oh I remember, our characters had left Lower Antelope Canyon (did I mention how AMAZING that place was?) en route to a central location from which they could all visit Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks. Dan was once again in charge of securing a suitable location and he settled on what seemed to be a nice location located just about halfway between the two parks, called Cherokee Springs RV and Golf Resort.

Upon our arrival at this “seemingly” good choice, we found the most loathed thing we agree upon – a dirt road, a long dirt road, a dirt road that-which ran for a very long and very dusty 1.5 miles before finally meandering past the house/office of this (under development) RV park and golf course. The great news was the rate ($18 per night) for a full hookup. Dan’s been coveting these RV parks with low low low rates and all the bells and whistles so we braved the long and dirty road up to our spot in the “crowded” park. The owner told us that he had 18 spots available for the night and after we arrived, we found that he now had only 17 spots remaining as we were the sole customer at his establishment for the night.

The owner was quick to assure us that Finnegan would be a great “snack” for the many wolves in the area and urged us to keep a close eye on him during our stay. Dan here:  Carol didn’t mention (and probably doesn’t really want to think about it) but the owner of this place came by while Michelle and I were outside the RV and asked us if we wanted to take a drive with him around the entire park.  We obliged (thinking Carol would figure out where we went) and he showed us all over; the golf course (under construction), the conference center cabin (under construction), and the rest of the park (also under construction).  When we got back to the RV after about an hour tooling around the place with the owner in his prized $500 Ford Expedition we returned to find Carol less than pleased that we had taken the tour without her.  Ya snooze ya lose.  Sorry. 

The great thing about this place was that it was 18 miles from everything, so the night sky was spectacular! Bold blue sky fading away to black as millions of stars shone down on the dirt road leading to and from our site. By the second day, two other brave soles (with HUGE telescopes) had joined us at the park taking the occupancy rate up to about 16% for the place for next few days.

The following morning we drove down back to Zion and braved the masses of automobiles heading into the park. We parked at the visitors center and hailed one of the many mass transit buses that take hikers to the various trail heads (no cars are allowed past this spot). We hiked the Emerald Pools Trail, a relatively easy trail, unless you are out of shape, such that we are. We made it to the first of the three pools, and our daughter (who hiked the pants off us) went on to see the other two pools and brought back her memories as we headed back to the luxury of the park’s mass transit system; but not before we ditched our shoes and hiked into the cold rushing waters of the stream near the road to provide relief for our aching tired feet for awhile.

The second day, we headed out for what was supposed to be our trip to Bryce Canyon –  however Dan kept pining for a “drive-about” to show us things he had seen on a previous motorcycle trip about 5 years earlier and as we continued to protest our desire to see the other national park, he proceeded to keep driving so we completed the disappointing (to mother and daughter AND disappointing to father trying to relive his past adventures) “drive-about” throughout the area, (under protest and with much mumbling under the breath) for the day.  Dan here:  This was the best part of the whole trip!  We did Cedar Breaks and even went into Brianhead Ski Resort to have a look around.  Beautiful!

On the third day, we finally reached the edges of Bryce Canyon. Breathtaking is the word that comes to mind for how beautiful it is. Our daughter was quick to head down to hike through the canyon while her parents took in the view from the top before eventually hiking about a 1/2 mile down into the giant ravine. The path is steep, both up and down and this hike is not for the faint of heart, so we decided the view was much better from the top and left all the hiking to those in in shape in our party. By the time we made it back up the path and over to the edge where we expected that our daughter would emerge about an hour later, we found that she was already there, waiting for us.

All in all, we really enjoyed our visit to this part of Utah (and we enjoyed having our visitor stay with us, as well).