The Front Range

We left our Roamer at the EarthRoamer factory in Dacono, CO to get its yearly camper tune-up and some paint touch-up for the areas that were starting to show some oxidation along the top corners of the camper. We are always trying new routes in and out of Arizona on our trips. Because we had a rental truck that could move right along, we took I-40 into New Mexico and then shot up Hwy 491 from Gallup. Rather than go through Shiprock, we turned onto Indian Service Rd 5 to cut over to Farmington. The scenery along this road was unique.

Just outside Farmington there were acres and acres of pumpkins ripening for the Halloween season. We then crossed into Colorado and gained some altitude. We stopped for the night in Pagosa Springs, hitting up our favorite brewery there for a nice dinner and some beers – Riff Raff Brewing Co. The drive along Hwy 160 was beautiful with fall colors out in force.

Looking out over Wolf Creek Pass was gorgeous. You just had to watch out for the many ground squirrels that inhabit the rest stop there.

There was a miscommunication on the scope of the paint job, and since it was going to take a week or so more to fix, we had some time to explore the Colorado Front Range. We drove south to Colorado Springs to visit a childhood friend of Pam’s, Lisa, and her husband, Gary, who live there. We did several hikes around the area, including the Garden of the Gods, which is an interesting rock outcropping.

We saw about a dozen sheep in the rocks, where this guy was doing a nice pose for the camera.

We also drove up to the top of Pike’s Peak, elevation 14,115 feet. While it was a nice fall day down in Colorado Springs, it was near or below freezing with a stiff breeze at the top of the mountain. The view was fantastic and we even saw the cog train that drives up and down the mountain if you don’t want to drive yourself.

We also visited a friend who owns a couple of great book stores in Colorado Springs before we headed back north. We spent the remainder of the time in Loveland, CO with Jim and Alison. Typical for the area it was beautiful fall weather, and then the next day the temp dropped 30 degrees and it snowed. The next day it warmed back up and the snow was gone – for now.

We kept busy doing hikes and visiting breweries during the week while Jim and Alison worked. We met up with another high school classmate of Pam’s at the Breckenridge Brewery in the southern Denver area. They have some tasty beers.

One of the nicer hikes we did was along Devil’s Backbone, just outside Loveland. It was a beautiful day and we ran across a small Prairie rattlesnake on the trail. He was trying to catch the last of the fall sun and got a little upset when I moved him off the trail and back into the brush. He probably slithered back into the sun after we left – lol.

Another great hike in the Loveland area is through the Benson Sculpture Park. It a public park in town that holds a “Sculpture in the Park” event every August, where the proceeds from the event help to purchase another permanent sculpture. It has been ongoing since 1984 and there are now over 130 sculptures in the park. We may have to make it back to Loveland in August one of these years to see the event.

We finally got the Roamer back and headed south towards home. Typically we jump over the front range and take Hwy 285 back to Arizona. However, the Ford dealer said we should break the new turbo-charger in slowly so we headed down the front range to Walsenburg and made our way to the Great Sand Dunes National Park. The dunes are about 600 feet high and we got there in the late afternoon when the shadows on the dunes are the best.

The local elevation is about 8,000 feet so it was brisk in the evening this time of year, perfect for a campfire. We grabbed a spot at the campground there and had a great evening looking at the stars. The sunset was beautiful and we had a neighborhood full of deer in the morning.

We dropped south from there into New Mexico and made our way to one of our favorite camp spots, El Morro National Monument. It was our second time there this year and luckily we were able to grab one of the last spots for the night. It was interesting to see how much the sunset location shifted on the horizon with the passage of the summer.

El Morro’s elevation is just over 7,000 feet, so it too was a nice evening for a campfire before heading home to end this trip.

On the way home the next day we stopped in our cabin for lunch and to catch up with our neighbor. The Forest Service was conducting a prescribed burn for the area to clean out the low grass and brush in the ponderosa forest around our place. They have been more proactive in keeping the fire danger down since the huge fire more than a decade ago that took out over 500,000 acres of forest in the area. However, the year of the fire, the forest was so dry it was a matter of when, not if, it was going to occur.

We arrived home safe and sound with the Roamer to complete our fourth summer trip. While it may be remembered for the maintenance issues we spent more time visiting friends and family for longer periods of time and seeing new places, which is never a bad thing.

Colorado

This summer’s trip has been one full of maintenance issues. Most folks we talked with also had mechanical problems this year. Maybe like wine there are good and bad years, and 2017 is a bad truck year – lol.
As we made our way south towards Colorado, our turbo-charger blew. With the much more limited power we limped down the front range and found a large parking lot to let the rush hour folks drive home at maximum speed. After waiting an hour we left the parking lot, but the truck became a white smoke generating machine when we started down the road again. Now with no power and creating a cloud behind us, we pulled over into another parking lot and called for a tow truck.

The towing process was a good learning experience for us, having never towed the Roamer before. The tow truck that showed up later that night was too small to tow the Roamer so we sent him away and spent the night in Freddy’s Steakburger parking lot in Loveland, CO. It won’t make our top camp spots list.

The next morning we discussed our situation with the Denver Ford service center, EarthRoamer, AAA and a tow company that had a medium duty tow vehicle. A lowboy trailer is recommended for EarthRoamers for long distances, and due to its height to safely make it under overpasses. However, you can disconnect the driveshaft and use a regular medium duty tow truck if just towing for shorter distances, less than 100 miles.

This was good news for us because we’ve been camped in places when both of us have looked at each other and wondered how a lowboy would ever get back to anywhere near where we were if the truck broke down. Now we know towing it is not as restrictive, but hopefully it’s not something we’ll need often.

We were on our way to the EarthRoamer factory for our rig’s yearly service. The blown turbo-charger meant we had two days to kill while it was being fixed at the Ford service center before it would get its yearly camper tune-up. Without the roamer we were just normal travelers so we booked a couple of nights at the The Niwot Inn. It’s a cute B&B in Niwot, a transitioning farm community along the rail line between Longmont and Boulder.

We met up for dinner with my cousin’s son Matt, who works in the Denver area. We ordered the meat platter at Avery Brewery. We saw the smoker when we walked in so we had to try it. The food was really good and beers were even better while we caught up with Matt and updated news of our relatives back east.

After we got a new turbo-charger and exhaust filter, which sucked up the oil once the turbo-charger blew and produced the smoke show, we took it to the EarthRoamer factory for the yearly tune-up and some new paint to fix the oxidation on the top corners after 4 years on the road. This work was going to take a couple of weeks to complete so we took our rental (F-150 4×4 truck) and headed west to Fruita, CO.

We stopped on the way in Vail, CO for lunch. Neither of us had been there before. It was a lot smaller than I envisioned, more like a ski resort than a ski town. The food and scenery were good, but we jumped in the truck and continued onto Fruita.

Fruita is where our EarthRoaming friends Lou and Nancy recently bought a place. It’s a nice small town just outside Grand Junction, CO, where most folks know each other and the place is surrounded by great off-road and mountain biking trails.

It’s a town that likes the arts, where sculptures line the main street. This is a sculpture of Mike, the famous Fruita rooster that lived for days after his head was removed. I guess if he had a brain he would have known he was dead.

They also have a couple of breweries in town. Here was our selection from the Copper Club. All were good beers. Pam and Nancy even helped to harvest some hops that this brewery uses at a local friend’s farm.

While Moab-like mountain biking is the main draw for the area, we checked out some great hiking areas. This was just outside of town, overlooking the Fruita valley. It was before the western fire’s smoke blew in and turned the normal blue sky to a yellow haze at the end of our stay. The smoke wasn’t heavy in Fruita, but it was noticeable.

We also hiked Rabbit Valley, a beautiful canyon area along the Colorado–Utah border off Interstate 70.

There were hieroglyphs on the canyon walls from the folks that lived there many years ago. The canyon ends at the Colorado River and water flows through the canyon most of the year.

The Colorado National Monument is on the outskirts of Frutia so we had to visit. The canyons there were much grander in scale compared to Rabbit Valley and gorgeous.

We did a couple of hikes within the monument, but could have done many more.

With time to kill waiting for the Roamer, we decided to drive home and catch-up on things there since we had been gone since June. Being in western Colorado we shot down Hwy 128 to Moab, which is a breath-taking drive if you have never gone on that road before. We then jumped onto Hwy 191 and headed south into the Navajo Nation.

We stopped in the Comb Ridge Bistro for a great lunch in Bluff, Utah. The small restaurant had great food and some interesting art for sale.

We hit a monstrous wind / dust storm going through Chinle, AZ on the reservation. We were glad we had a rental and not sand-blasting the Roamer with a new paint job.

We stopped at our cabin on the Rim to enjoy the cool air one more night before dropping back down into the 100- degree valley. Once the peanut feeder in our side yard was replenished it did not take long for the jays and squirrels to find the food.

While the west coast and northwest had a horrible forest fire year, the northern Arizona forests looked a lush green with full ponds of water from the winter snows and summer rains.

We got back into the valley and our planned stay was extended due to delays with the Roamer. While at home we caught the Diamondbacks game when they clinched the wildcard slot, a really good game.

Sadly we also attended the funeral service for Brian, who lost his fight with cancer. Pam’s brother and sister flew in for the service of their childhood friend so we had a chance to catch-up with both. Having the rental pick-up turned out to be handy. We sold our F-150 truck years ago, but having one again was rather nice.

Next trip is back to Colorado to pick up the Roamer.

Wyoming

We entered the northeast corner of Wyoming and stopped to camp at Belle Fourche River Campground in the Devils Tower National Monument. The igneous rock formation is nearly 900 feet from base to the top. We spotted a couple of climbers on the top from our campsite. It’s definitely one of the unique structures in nature. How it formed is still being discussed, a volcanic plug being the most accepted. That the rock cooled into the geometric strands is what is interesting to see up close.

We left Devils Tower and made our way to Buffalo, WY, where I took the blacksmithing class during last year’s trip. In Gillette, WY we ran into a young guy who was doing a live webcast travel blog as we pulled into the gas station. I think he was a little excited seeing an Earthroamer because he kept telling me how awesome our vehicle is. It’s good to see others out on the road and experiencing this beautiful country.

We stopped in Buffalo to say high to my instructor and his wife. It was David’s B-day so we stayed for a great shrimp boil and some Rainier Beer (had to if you’re a Longmire fan). Buffalo is the city Durant, WY is based upon for the Longmire books and TV show. Another student blacksmith from Portland had just finished his class and was discussing which of his two new forged hammers he was sleeping with that night – it’s a blacksmith thing.

We stayed the night at the Mountain View Campground. In the morning we jumped over the Bighorn Mountains and made our way to Thermopolis for a nice afternoon soak in the hot springs.
We then made our way to the Wind River Valley near Crowheart, WY where friends own some gorgeous land along the river.

Bert and Leigh retired from the cattle business in Wisconsin, but keep some longhorns on their land as pets now.

We gathered there with friends and family of Bert and Leigh to watch the eclipse. Their place was right on the center of the totality path. One group of photographers had an impressive collection of equipment, including a quad-rotor drone with a camera.

We weren’t sure what to expect with the eclipse. I tried to shoot photos through my eclipse glasses during the transition, but that didn’t work.

We parked ourselves in one of the pastures and watched the sunlight and heat slowly go away over the hour during the transition from this….

To this…..

Because we were on the centerline we saw the totality for about 2 minutes and 20 seconds. It was very awesome, and at the same time somewhat eerie, to watch the sun disappear.

The light through the trees showed the partial coverage transition period and the crescent shape made from the sun and moon. It was amazing how after the totality that less than 1% of sunlight was again too much light to see up without glasses. I guess that is what made the totality so unique – the daylight was gone.

We stayed at Bert and Leigh’s for a few days after the eclipse. I helped Bert with a few chores and got to drive his dump truck while he picked up a few wood piles around his place that had been recently cut.
We also explored the area. We drove up Whiskey Mountain and found some petroglyphs.

And the view from near the top was beautiful. We hiked the trail at the base of the glacier-formed valley from the parking lot you can see in the photo. The largest glacier field in the lower 48 states in on the far mountain tops, covering 100s of square miles still.

The trail ran up to a series of lakes and a nice river that was cascading down the cracks in the rocks.

The views in the area were incredible.

Bert drove his truck up the adjacent hillside and the drive was a lot of fun.

The next day we did a short trip to Jackson, WY, passing the Tetons on the way.

If you have never been to Jackson, they have a town square with these huge antler entryways at each corner.

Dubois, WY, which is the next town upstream from Bert and Leigh’s place, has the National Bighorn Sheep Center. It has some great displays of the bighorn sheep from all over the world, including the four found in the US: Stone’s sheep, Desert Bighorn sheep, Rocky Mountain Bighorn sheep, and Dall’s sheep – from left to right.

We took another day trip with Bert and Leigh over Union Pass, which tops out at about 9,200 feet. We drove over the pass and had a nice lunch and some good beer at the Wind River Brewing Co. in Pinedale.

We took the South Pass way back and had to stop at Farson Mercantile for the huge ice cream cones. We also drove through the mining ghost towns of South Pass City and Atlantic City.

The last two days at Bert and Leigh’s two moose decided to have breakfast on some local trees. The larger bull moose was impressive in size. The smaller bull moose must have been learning the ropes from his older grazing buddy.

It was a great time there, but we left Wyoming and headed south for Colorado and our yearly trip to the Earthroamer factory for some needed tune-up to our rig.

North Dakota

Having never been in North Dakota, neither of us knew what to expect. From watching Fargo we envisioned crazed folks with wood chippers and a snow blown country all year long. Therefore, we took the bypass around Fargo (lol) to get to our first stop. We camped at Jorgens Hollow Campground in the Sheyenne National Grasslands. It was a beautiful spot and the campground was new, free and nearly empty. Two other campsites were occupied: one by a couple that could be the wood chipper kind of folk, and another couple from Seattle who pulled out an accordion and played in the evening campfire – a first for us.

It was nice to finally bust out of the tree-clogged highways we have been traveling in east of the Mississippi River and in northern Minnesota to once again get to some gorgeous wide open spaces across North Dakota. We took the back roads across the state and saw some interesting things, like this farm implement display on the horizon – “harvesters in waiting”.

What totally surprised us along our drive was that one of the biggest export crops grown in North Dakota is sunflowers. We’ve never seen acres and acres of sunflower plants before. What an amazing sight.

We made our way to the southern unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The geology was a cross between the Badlands and the Painted Desert, very beautiful. The campground was full in the southern unit mostly because it was right next to a freeway and easily accessed. The Ranger said the northern unit, about 60 miles north, was never full so we went there instead to camp at Juniper Campground.

The northern unit was wrapped around the Little Missouri River and while similar to the southern unit, it was greener from the river. Also the bison in the park were very plentiful.

Pam and I went for an evening stroll to a nearby rock formation. In the evening dusk we were surprised by the bats heading out for an evening meal from their roost in the thin cracks in the rock wall.

We explored the park the next day and found some gorgeous overlooks down the river valley.

The bison are pretty happy just grazing around the park. Here was a huge bull just lounging by the road.

We left North Dakota with a new appreciation for the beauty of the state and headed into South Dakota. There was something of note on our map that was kind of off the beaten path so we had to take it. The road out there was fun to drive through the ranches of northwest South Dakota.

What was out there was the geographical center of the US (including Alaska and Hawaii). It’s marked with a lone US flag and a US Geological marker in the huge field.

After feeling very centered, we headed into Wyoming and our next adventure.

Minnesota

Our travels three years ago took us through Minnesota on our way to the UP of Michigan and points further east. We camped only once in Minnesota during that trip along the St Croix River, which we thought would be a very good place to revisit on a future trip.

This visit to Minnesota had several objectives rather than being just a pass-through state as before, most importantly to attend Sarah and Doug’s wedding.

We continued up the Mississippi River from Iowa to Red Wing, MN where we stopped at a Duluth Clothing Store outlet, next to the Red Wing Shoe Store, two of my favorite places. It was a nice day when we went inside, but the rain was blowing by the window horizontally when we went to leave. It was an unexpected cloud burst that was reminiscent of an Arizona monsoon in its intensity and duration. Ten minutes later is was a nice day again.

We camped the night at St Croix Bluffs Regional Park, just SW of Minneapolis on the St Croix River, so we could run some errands around town the next day. We had the oil changed on the truck and did some needed shopping. Aveda was started in this area so Pam got her hair cut for the wedding. Although, I didn’t mind the wild and wavy look she had going every morning.

We camped the next couple of days a few miles north of Stillwater, MN on the St Croix River at William O’Brian State Park. The park had a nice hiking trail along the river and through the park.

Our camp spot was nice too, even though we weren’t there very long due to errands and meeting up with folks. We met up with one of Pam’s high school classmates and her future husband for dinner at their place. The steaks, corn and beer were great. Greg had a high-temp steak searing attachment to his grill that made me envious.

We crossed the river one day into Wisconsin to check out the falls at Willow River State Park. It was a nice lunch spot and 4 mile hike to the falls and back.

The wedding of Clark and Jill’s daughter was beautiful, performed in the old Catholic church in Stillwater. You can see the steeple of the church in this picture reaching above the trees. We explored the area prior to wedding and found that Stillwater was the territorial capitol of Minnesota in its early days and a booming logging community. Picture the entire St Croix River jammed with the white pine logs that flowed down these shores.

We could have just camped in the riverfront parking lots, but we parked in the driveway of the VRBO house other Phoenix friends had rented in town for the wedding. That worked out better since we were supplied with food, beverages and campfire wood for some enjoyable meals and evening fires.

In the “it’s a small world” story category we talked with Clark’s niece and her husband at the brunch the day after the wedding. Turns out we had also talked to them at the campground in Fairbanks, Alaska two years ago when we were both camped there. We didn’t know it at the time that they were related to Clark, but they recognized the Roamer at the wedding and then we both realized we had met. Small World.

We camped at Rice Creek Campground, just north of Minneapolis after the wedding festivities were over and folks began to head home. The next morning we met up with Kirk, who flew in from Phoenix and we all headed for International Fall, MN. There we crossed over to Ft Francis, Ontario to get a CANPASS, which would allow us to cross into Canada over water and not at a regular border patrol station. Our Global Entry cards, which we both just recently obtained, allowed us to do the same to get back into the US.

We needed the CANPASS because we met up with Kathy and David and boated to their island on the Canadian side of Rainy Lake. The island has been in her family since the 1930s and is just north of Nowhere Island, so it really is “north of nowhere”.

We kayaked around the many islands in the area. It was good to be on the water and away from the mosquitoes, which were ever-present.

Kathy and David have two miniature schnauzers. Zoey discovered minnows in the shallows. It was tough to get her back onto the kayak after that new discovery.

We celebrated Pam’s birthday while on the island with a cake that Kathy baked using wild blueberries from the island to spell out “happy b-day”. As you can see by the candles she is now 8 and some.

David and Kathy had “fish taco night” with some cousins just before we arrived, using fresh caught bass and walleye from the lake. He attempted to land some more for another taco night, but only caught several northern pike during our stay.

There was a lot to see on the islands. Hidden in a back bay of one island was a nice beaver lodge. While I like beavers, all of the folks I’ve run into that had beavers on their property tell of the rapid and total destruction they do to the local trees to build their projects and eat. Maybe there are trainable beavers out there somewhere.

The lake was glacier formed and the remaining granite rock varies in depth along the lake. The water is dark due to its mineral content so the rocks appear from the depths much quicker than boaters would like. The prop refurbishing guy has a full time job in the summer on Rainy Lake. Here was one such rock outcropping that broke the surface this time of year marked with a prop and shaft.

There is also a rock outcropping that some artist back in the 1930s took bent steel rods, props and cement to create Mermaid Rock. There are also many stories that go along with the mermaid that only the locals can tell.

After leaving Rainy Lake, we headed into Voyageurs National Park for a brief visit because you really need a boat the truly appreciate the park. The visitor center was very good, and I was amazed how far snow mobiles have come from this vintage 1964 Arctic Cat.

As we headed out of Minnesota on our way to the North Dakota grasslands, we stopped for lunch at Itasca State Park. It is a beautiful park with great trails and lakes, and unknown to us when we stopped, Lake Itasca – the headwaters of the Mississippi River. From here the Mississippi River flows 2552 miles to the Gulf of Mexico.

Our stay in Minnesota was awesome and we hope to return.

The Midwest

We left Pennsylvania and headed west through West Virginia into southern Ohio. We camped at Stroud’s Run State Park, had a nice campfire and relaxed in the near empty campground. What we have learned in our travels is that you only really need to make reservations for Friday and Saturday night, unless you are going to a National Park. There is always going to be an opening for mid-week camping, even in the summertime.

We were intrigued by the National Road exhibit at Fort Necessity and decided to turn north and drive on the historic route as far as we could. We reconnected with Route 40 in Zanesville, OH, which also has a Zane Grey Museum. Although the museum was named for Zane Grey it housed three distinct topics under the one roof. It had a section dedicated to its famous hometown boy Zane Grey, but also had nice exhibits on the National Road and the local Ohio pottery.

The section on the National Road has some very interesting dioramas that depict the history of the road from the initial clearing of the forests, to the toll houses being set to recover some of the cost for its upkeep, and the towns that popped up to provide the travelers moving west with whatever they needed.

They had a Calistoga wagon there, which was the 18-wheeler of its time. In the glass case were the horse’s harnesses that had the brass bells on top. While looking ornamental, they actually had an important function of being used to pay for repairs along the way due to the price of brass. It’s where the saying “I’ll be there with bells on” came from – meaning a good trip where you didn’t need any repairs.

Being from Arizona, we wondered what this area had to do with Zane Grey. Turns out he was born in Zanesville, where his mother was a Zane, and the town was named after her great-grandfather, a Revolutionary War patriot. His name was Pearl Zane Grey, which he shortened to P. Zane Grey and then to just Zane Grey. He had a baseball scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania and may have turned pro if it had not been for Cy Young. Due to Cy Young they moved the pitcher’s mound back 10 feet and Zane’s curve ball was rendered unless. Instead he started as a dentist, following his father, but then left that to become the writer we all know today. His wife, Dolly, had a lot to do with his success and was there to pick him up from his failures.

As we drove north to Zanesville we passed through Roseville and other small towns noted for their pottery, including Stoneware. The National Road made it possible for these goods to be shipped back to the east and even overseas, which lead to the pottery’s fame. Many of the local brands were there to admire.

Heading west on Route 40 is a great drive. It parallels I-70 for those that want to get there faster, but the National Road passes through some beautiful farms dominated by corn and soybeans.

In Dayton we met up with a grade school friend of mine that I had not seen since 6th grade, Carmen. We were Homeacre Elementary School grads, where our 1st through 4th grade class had seven boys and 23 girls. We both still remembered the square dancing and plays we had in Ms Raisley’s 4th grade class – lol.

We camped at Buck Creek State Park, a campground we had stayed at on our previous trip through this area 3 years ago. As we were enjoying our evening campfire, a boy came over and warned us of the raccoons. Sure enough, a raccoon came right out of the woods not too long after and tried to climb our stairs into the Roamer before scurrying off back into the woods.

The next day we stopped at the Aullwood Audubon Center and Farm for a nice lunch break and a hike. The farm had a lot of animals including a pair of beautiful Belgium draft horses and this curious pig.

The hike was through a densely forested area with water everywhere. We both miss the western vegetation where you can actually see what’s on the ground and in any direction for more than 30 feet. Everything in the East seems to be too overgrown for our outdoor adventure liking.

We camped the night at Whitewater Memorial State Park, our first camp spot in Indiana! We picked out a spot in a quiet loop. Two families showed up later with seven kids between 1 and 12. We had fun watching the bike races, training wheels included, around our loop into the night.

We ran some errands in Indianapolis the next day that also included a stop at a local REI store, getting a tip on a great place to camp for the night, Shades State Park in western Indiana. However, it was Saturday night and the park was full, so we’ll have to hit that one the next time we drive through these parts. We continued westward into Illinois and ended up camping at Kickapoo State Recreational Area.

We continued on the National Road to Springfield, Illinois and the home of Abraham Lincoln. He and Mary Lincoln raised their 3 boys there prior to leaving for Washington, DC and the White House. It was originally a smaller single story home that grew with his successful law practice and the family to its current size.

We crossed the Mississippi River again heading west into Iowa and camped the night at Wakonda State Park. We had a nice spot next to the pond that we shared with 4 Canada geese and some evening bats that were graciously reducing the local mosquito population.

Much of the drive was through corn fields, where the advantage we have with the Roamer is that you are sitting up high enough to see over the mature stalks.

As we were driving up through the farms along the Mississippi River in Iowa we spotted a sign that pointed the way to the “Field of Dreams Movie Set” – had to stop. The house, field and even the corn was exactly as it was in the movie. It was a little spooky walking out deep into the cornfield .

We camped the night at Pike Peak State Park, which was right on the hills overlooking the river. We hiked a trail along the bluff to get a good view, but there were too many trees blocking the vista. Pam slipped on the vegetation clogged trail and landed on a rock to produce a beautiful multi-colored bruise below her knee for the upcoming wedding. Luckily the colors went well with her dress.

The next day we hiked Effigy Mounds National Monument. The trails were much better and the overlook actually did provide a beautiful view of the Mississippi River Valley.

The mounds were similar to the burial mounds we saw along the Natchez Trace Trail in Mississippi earlier in this trip. Here they covered the bluffs overlooking the river and were in recognizable shapes when seen from above, this one being the Great Bear Mound.

We crossed into Minnesota and the next part of our trip.

Penn’s Woods

We had a great visit with Fred and Cathy while in Elkland, PA. We saw the “Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania” and did a nice hike there. Pine Creek cuts through the gorge and the old railroad was made into 60 miles of bike trails through the gorge.

We hit the Wellsboro House on the way home for a bite to eat and some good in-house beers.

We found some old family photos of my earlier visits to Elkland growing up. I was about 5 when this photo was taken, with my Mr. Rogers sweater on – lol. I guess I was meant to be an engineer.

We left Elkland and stopped in State College, PA to see my Godmother. At 85 she is still a spark of joy while Pam and I chatted the afternoon away with her.

We made our way westward to my sister’s place in Slippery Rock, PA for a visit with Brett, Hunter and my sis. There is always something happening at their place given the garden, the fields and the animals.

Their peacocks had chicks and the parents here were checking out the new folks in town. A new barn is going up for some future alpacas.

Cyndi also dug out some old family photos. This had to have been some time in my terrible twos – lol.

We all went to North Country Brewing Co for some good beer and to hear a local band. The beer and the food were great there.

We left Slippery Rock with a lot of supplies from their gardens and her kitchen. We then made our way south to Mill Run, PA to see Fallingwater, the Frank Lloyd Wright house.

Pam and I could easily see ourselves relaxing on those decks, or next to the fireplaces forever.

What a location, and what a design that made the most of the location – for a great weekend get-away. We’ll see if they will trade for the Roamer – lol.

Just a few miles away was another Frank Lloyd Wright home, called Kentuck Knob. His homes are very distinct, but what are always humorous are the stories that go along with them from his and the customer’s side during construction. When the home was completed, the new owners threw a party to show off the place, with Frank Lloyd Wright as the guest of honor. Everyone came, except Frank Lloyd Wright. His excuse was that he already knew how beautiful the house was so he did not need to attend.

The home was all non-90 degree angles at every corner, and resembled a ship at sea, inside and out.

I’ve always liked wood and stone together, and his designs are just uncompromisingly beautiful.

The lady of the house got many design changes incorporated during the construction, a fact that seemed very unique for his designs. However, she admitted that later in life the one mistake she made was planting trees around the place. All you can see from the porch is trees, but this was the original view before the trees were put in and grew. I think I’d crank up the chainsaw.

The property had a lot of sculptures and art randomly placed on the grounds. They also liked bird houses, where these were some of the largest we’ve ever seen.

We camped the night at Ohiopyle State Park and hiked the falls in the morning before saying goodbye to the area.

As we were driving, we passed Fort Necessity National Monument and had to stop. A young George Washington led some troops and surveyors in 1754 into the disputed western area to make a road so that British troops could advance and displace the French at Fort Duquesne, where Pittsburgh is now located.

A skirmish with the local French troops that left their commander dead led to retaliation and the requirement to build the small fort. The French surrounded and attacked, leading to Washington’s surrender. The events that followed ramped up to the French and Indian War from 1754-1763.

What was also at the visitor center was information on the National Road, route 40. This was the first federally funded road in 1811, constructed from Cumberland, MD to Vandalia, Ill. Because this trip has had a “great roads” theme to it, we will have to follow this road for awhile on our way to Minnesota.

New Brunswick and New England

Pam and I started our slow return back west from Nova Scotia. We decided to drive back down to the US along the New Brunswick coast. We made the same drive three years ago when we were towing my Grandfather’s ’46 Willy’s Jeep back to be restored, which definitely changed where we could go due to our increased length with the auto trailer and lack of maneuverability.
We blew our first tire leaving Nova Scotia the last trip so we didn’t hit the New Brunswick coast until dark and it was very foggy. This time it was a beautiful day. We stopped at the Hopewell Rocks Park for a nice hike and a view of the tide-weathered rocks of the coast.

We camped for the night at the Point Wolfe Campground in Fundy National Park. It was a drive to get there and we thought we were out of luck when we got to this covered bridge, but it was 13 feet tall and rated for 23 tons so we were ok.

The campground was near the water so it was very foggy in the morning when we left for the US border. We stopped at Caribou Plain for another hike before we left the park. It was a great hike with a beaver pond and a peat bog that is very unique for the area.

Much of the trail was along a raised platform due to the bog and soft, mossy ground.

At one point we came up to a tiny deer mouse about the size of a walnut right in the middle of the trail eating away at something really good. He didn’t even notice us as we stopped and got right next to him, but eventually he scurried off into the woods.

We crossed the border back into the US at Calais, ME without any issues. The border guard asked to see inside, but I think it was more out of curiosity since he was in there for about 10 seconds before telling us we were good to go.
We made our way down along the Passamaquoddy Bay, the body of water that separates the coastal part of Maine from New Brunswick. We stopped at the St Croix National Park. The St Croix Island was the first French settlement in North America in 1604. Pierre Dugua led an expedition that explored Nova Scotia and New Brunswick before deciding on St Croix Island to put up a settlement as a center for the beaver fur trade. The Natives warned the group not to winter there due to the ice and tides, and because they did not listen the group was stranded on the island for the winter. Nearly half of the men died the first winter due to scurvy.

The next spring they took down all the buildings they had constructed there and sailed to Nova Scotia to create Port Royal at the site of the Habitation in 1605. Champlain was also on that expedition and documented the entire trip in words and drawings, also creating many of the very accurate maps that were used for many years that followed.

We camped the night at Cobscook Bay State Park and got a spot right on the water. The tides here were still pretty noticeable. We watched as the fog rolled in that night. First, we could no longer see across the bay, then we couldn’t see the islands, then we were deep in the mist and thinking of Stephen King.

The next day we headed down Route 1 along the coast stopping for our last lobster roll and some good micro-brew in Belfast, ME at the Marshall Wharf Brewing Co.

The engine was making what sounded like a loose belt noise so we had it checked. Turned out that a couple of our exhaust manifold bolts had failed and air was escaping between the manifold and the engine block. We ended up camping at the Pumpkin Patch RV Resort in Hermon, ME, just outside of Bangor, waiting for our appointment to fix the truck the following day.

We were out of there in a couple of hours and headed over to Winthrop, ME to have dinner and spend the night with Pam’s cousin. He has a nice camping spot in his driveway.

We drove across New Hampshire and Vermont the next day, stopping at Beer Naked Brewery in Vermont to check out the scenery of the Green Mountain Range and get some tips on some good dispersed camping spots the next time we pass through.

We camped the night at Thompson’s Lake State Park near Altamont, NY. The reason for the stop there was that Pam’s family had a farm near Altamont and Guilderland from the time they came over to the US until the late ‘70s. We found the old farm, but the original 57 acres have been split into at least two lots and it was overgrown with trees. We visited the Altamont and Guilderland Historical Societies to see if they were interested in some of the paperwork we had on the old farm. One was a hand-drawn surveyor map of the property from 1851. Not sure our kids will want the papers and we don’t want to just throw them away. We didn’t bring them with us but now have the contacts on where we can send them if we decide to do so. It was pretty cool that we saw several streets and buildings in the village area named after families that we have records for from years gone by.

We drove the next day through Cooperstown, NY to see the baseball hall of fame. The town is a beautiful small town on the southern shore of Otsego Lake. There is no parking for anything Roamer-sized or larger anywhere near the hall of fame as we found out. After driving around a bit we did stumble on the parking lots outside of town that offer free trolley rides into town, but we just had lunch in the lot and left. The Baseball Hall of Fame awaits our next visit to the area.

Next on the agenda was a visit to one of my cousins and his wife in Elkland, PA. We knew they were out with one of their kids and grandkids on a local lake, so we stopped to make dinner at Cowanesque Lake and there they were. We rode around on the water for awhile and then headed back to Elkland, PA for the night to complete the New England leg of our trek.

The Milestone Celebration

Earlier this year my brother, sister, Pam and myself started to plan a big milestone (80th birthday party) celebration for our Mom. She lives in Granville Ferry, across the Annapolis River basin from Annapolis Royal, one of the oldest European settlements in North America.

Fort Anne sits at the point in Annapolis Royal with a commanding spot over-looking the Annapolis Basin. It’s a star-shaped, earth-walled fort that was built in the colonial times and passed from the French to the British a few times over its history.

The town itself has not changed much in 400+ years. It has only one traffic light and no fast food, or malls within 20 miles. The Saturday farmer’s market in town is the event of the week. Someone was working on a new dory on the wharf.

We had two parties for my Mom and the weather was beautiful for both days. The first one we held at a historic B&B in town, The Hillsdale Inn, for family and her friends. We even had a bag-piper play for the afternoon.

All of her relatives at the party gathered for this shot.

After folks started to leave we had an awesome game of croquet on the lawns there. Some games are just made for beer drinking.

The next day we had a second party for just the relatives in the community center near her house. The menu for this party was lobster.

My sister was a flurry of activity coordination and cooking for the parties, which she enjoys doing. For the rest of us, it was nice to just sit back and enjoy the time talking with each other.

Pam and I stayed at the Inn a couple of nights during the parties, but spent the rest of the time parked at Dunromin Campground, within walking distance to my Mom’s place. The spot we got was the same one my grandparents had there as a seasonal guest for years while I was growing up – pretty cool.

After the parties most folks needed to head home. We took our son to Halifax for his flight stopping at The Tangled Garden to restock our supply of mint jellies for future lamb dinners.

His flight was at 5am so we had a nice dinner in town at the Alexander Keith’s brewery and then dropped him off at the airport hotel before heading back to my Mom’s place.

We did some sight-seeing while we were there. Over the mountain is Parker’s Cove, a fishing village hidden back in the trees. The tide was out, exposing the rocks along the coast, where the tides here are 20 feet or more.

We also visited the Habitation, or Port Royal, the original French colony in Nova Scotia. I found out this trip that my great-grandfather was part of the crew that rebuilt the fort in the 1930s to become one of Canada’s first parks.

The inside of the fort is decorated as it would have been when it was being used by the French beaver trappers and traders at the time. The fort was raided at some point in its history by the British from Virginia, who took everything they could carry away. The French trappers were away and came back to a ransacked fort. The spent the winter with the local Indians and were restocked from France in the spring.

We also had lunch at the beautiful Luckett Vineyard. The food was as good as the view. The telephone booth in the vineyard allows you to call anyone in North America for free.

The evening view from my Mom’s kitchen is very nice. I refinished her deck this trip and the foam on the water due to the changing tides seems to glow in the evening twilight.

We had our fill of great home-made fish chowder, poutine and lobster during our visit, played some rousing hands of cards and dominoes, and with the favorable exchange rate things were not as expensive this stay. Pam and I are now heading towards our next set destination of this summer’s adventure – Minnesota.

Mad Dash to Nova Scotia

As we waited for the Roamer to be fixed we continued our exploration of the nearby Virginia area. We went back to the Blue Ridge Parkway to hike around Otter Lake. The dam was constructed out of huge fitted rocks that lets the water cascade over.

We saw an otter, a muscrat and a harmless black snake hidden near the path that made Pam jump very high. On the other side of the James River are the old locks that were used for the cargo boats coming down Battle Creek.

We even saw a turtle making its way to a dead log in the James River to get a little sun and rest before setting off for the far bank.

We hoped that the Roamer would be finished on Friday, but no such luck. Pam and I spent the holiday weekend with her Uncle at his place on Smith Mountain Lake, along with his son’s family. They have a nine year-old girl, Leigh, so we became experts at the card game Sleeping Queens. Uncle Bill has a nice 21-foot runabout so we spent much of the time in and on the water.

One of the marinas on the lake had huge school of carp that would eat anything. Kids put peanut butter on their toes and let the fish suck it off, a “hillbilly pedicure”. There was a great fireworks show on the weekend which we enjoyed from the boat while floating out in the middle of the lake.

We got the Roamer back Monday evening just before they closed for the July 4th holiday. The destroyed axle was there to see, burnt oil and metal shavings draining out.

We filled up and headed north knowing we had about 26 hours of driving to do in two days. Due to our late start, the first night we spent in a truck stop on the West Virginia – Pennsylvania border. Our DEF sensor told us we had 800 miles to refill the reservoir or the truck won’t run – of course. We hit a Walmart on the way to pick some up because the next day was the 4th and we were not sure what would be open. After seeing the late night crowd in Walmart we figured the truck stop was a much better option.

The next day we blew through a lot of states. It’s great driving in the East because you feel like you’re really covering a lot of ground, passing through state after state every hour or so. We started in West Virginia, up through Pennsylvania, into New York, then Vermont and stopping in New Hampshire – wow. I guess you need to live out west to understand how different that is – to cross so many states in a single day.

We did stop for lunch and a break at my old school (RPI) in Troy, NY. It was the first time I had been back on campus since I graduated 34 years ago. I gave Pam a quick walking tour of the place. Some things are new, but much has not changed. Pam’s grandfather also attended RPI in the 20’s.

The second night was not going to be another truck stop, mostly because there are no east-west interstates in Vermont and New Hampshire – lol. We stopped the night at Pillsbury State Park in southern New Hampshire.

Our campsite was right on a lake with loons. It was a nice end to a long day of driving.

The next day we were up early and off again north. Maine doesn’t look that big until you drive it from south to north. We hit the border, declared everything we had to avoid a tear-down inspection delay. We ended up paying duty and taxes for the extra wine we had stored away, and would have consumed on the way up at our originally planned more leisurely pace. We made it to the Nova Scotia border in the early evening and the campground near my Mom’s place right around midnight.

We made it for my Mom’s birthday gathering with a couple of days to spare, and only a couple of days later than we had originally planned after spending 10 unplanned, but fun days in Lynchburg.