Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life-and travel-leaves marks on you.
----Anthony Bourdain

Thursday, February 29, 2024

The Great West Trip Part 2

After we left the Badlands, Devils Tower was next on the list. We just passed through and honestly, I would have been happy with seeing it in the distance and not actually driving into the park. It was rather crowded and, since we weren't hiking, the views weren't worth it to wait in line to get to the parking area. 

It was hot, but it was July, and crowded. I am surprised that climbing is allowed, for a fee, of course. We ran into a Polish couple in Yellowstone who climbed it. It must be done in the back of the tower; I didn't see anyone climbing but we saw the information for it.

We thought about camping in the area but with the temperatures predicted to be fairly warm overnight, we opted to stay in a hotel in Gillette. At some point in your life, comfort outweighs adventure.

From there we headed to Billings, Montana. We needed a "rest day" and it was a good time to do laundry and replenish groceries. We were able to secure a somewhat shaded spot at the KOA. This just happened to be KOA #1 so we felt like we found gold!
It was your typical KOA: Kind of tight spaces but the amenities were nice. We thought the location was a little odd: It was behind a residential area. We decided that the campground was probably there first and the houses were built later. Robert soaked in the pool and I sat with my feet in it for a while. We finished our laundry and relaxed. The Yellowstone River runs behind the campground.

While driving into town to go to the grocery store, I was pleased to see that the underpasses had been spruced up:

While at the campground, we discovered we had some interesting neighbors:

Robert looked it up because the employees had some question as to when to attempt to remove the nest with the least amount of bother to the campers. It's a "bald-faced hornet" and is very aggressive.  According to some sites I looked at, they sting repeatedly and can spray a "venom" in the eyes of an attacker causing watering of the eyes and temporary blindness. The nest was across the path from our site but thankfully they waited until after we left to take care of it.

We had a big decision to make. After seeing Robert's pictures when he rode his motorcycle to the Arctic Circle, I've wanted to see Lake Louise. We made sure we brought our passports just in case we went over the border but we had some considerations that we had to take into account. Do we go north into Canada, west to Glacier National Park, or south to Yellowstone? Or do we decide to go another route and do something different? Find out in Part 3!

Thursday, February 22, 2024

The Great West Trip Part 1

For our big trip, we talked about either going north or west. It just happened that the northern US was being pounded by a lot of rain, so we decided to go west. One of the reasons for that decision was that I (Mary) had never been to Utah. I wanted to see Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, and Arches. Plus, I wanted to see some places in Colorado that Robert talked about. We decided that we wouldn't push ourselves and would take our time. We didn't make any reservations except for the Harvest Hosts on the way to the Badlands. 
We made our way out of TN with the first Harvest Host as the first goal. We ended up leaving a day later than expected because of an issue with our cabin air conditioner. We took it by the dealer where we purchased the van only to be told that the battery was okay. I'm not sure if they didn't understand that we knew the battery was okay; it was the AC that needed to be looked at. In hindsight, when Robert bought it, I think he just checked to make sure that it was blowing and not that it was cooling. Anyway, we made the decision to go ahead with the trip without a working AC unit in the cabin; if it was too hot at night we would just get a hotel room. This actually worked extremely well for us. We ended up staying a few nights in hotels but opening the window above the bed and turning on the MaxxAir was all we needed. 
Holt RV Service was our first host. We spent the night of the 4th of July there. They were so very welcoming, even though they had a family party happening that night. We were treated to fireworks and nice conversation. If you're thinking, "Couldn't he have fixed the AC?", the answer is "no" due to the voltage of our AC. 
Nice spot at Holt RV Service
They have a super friendly cat that we had to make sure we didn't take along with us when we left the next day.
The next stop was my sister's house in Missouri, just north of Kansas City. We ended up spending a couple of nights there so I could have my sister time, then headed to the next Harvest Host site in Iowa. Stensland Family Farm is a working dairy farm. We dealt with flies, but it is a dairy farm. The parking was in the parking lot which was very level and quiet. We got a quick tour of how the freeze-dried ice cream was made and were given some samples. There is a small store with a pizza maker, ice cream, and cheese. You pay via the honor system which means if you want to use a credit card you have to make a phone call. They ended up getting a bit of a tip since we didn't have exact change.
View heading toward the farm

View from the front of the van

We parked in the parking lot but it was a quiet night. There was one other camper who came in while we were there.

It's a working dairy've gotta take a picture with a cow (real or not!)
On to the Badlands! On our previous trip out west we drove past this National Park but didn't actually go into it. This was one place I knew I had to visit and it definitely didn't disappoint. The scenery was breathtaking! We found an amazing place to Boondock, along with about 100 other people. You'll want to make sure you get to this space in the afternoon; if you wait until the evening you won't be able to find the best spot.

The view from our van

We spent 2 nights on the Pinnacles (also called "Badlands Boondocking Area" or "Badlands Boondock Campspot" on Google Maps). The whole drive through the Badlands was just breathtaking. We rode through the "loop" when we got there, found a spot to spend the night, and then spent the next day going back through the park at a much slower pace. We showered at the campground and then headed back to the Pinnacles to find a spot for the night. 

We had been advised to be aware of the wind. We had a young couple in a tent in back of us. Luckily the winds weren't too bad that night and their tent didn't end up against the van. We ended up seeing the couple again a couple of days after that on the interstate to Billings. It was very cool to have someone to wave to when we were so far away from home. 

From the Badlands, we started heading north/northwest. We had the luxury of taking our time deciding where we were going to go next as we drove along. We averaged 4-5 hours of driving each day which was perfect for us. I was already amazed at how beautiful this area of the country is; there was much more to come!

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