September, 2018 – Galesburg, Illinois

The trip south from Moline to Galesburg was all along I-74 and took less than an hour since we only traveled 45 miles to our next stop.  After 3 weeks of no water hookups, I decided to stay at a commercial campground called, Galesburg East Campground, that was just east of Galesburg.  This is an old KOA campground that was really well designed.  All of the sites were laid out in a pattern that created a neat set of pull-through sites with full hookups.  Consequently, it was very easy to get set up and start thinking about what to do during the week.

The weather had turned back to summer after the very nice temperatures we had the week before, so we decided to wait until later in the week for any hiking.  Therefore, on Tuesday we headed into Galesburg to explore the Carl Sandburg State Historic Site.  This was the boyhood home of Carl Sandburg, but was unfortunately was only open on the weekends.  It did not look like we missed very much, but now we needed something else to do.  Fortunately, we had read about another attraction in town, the Galesburg Railroad Museum, which turned out to be a much better alternative.  We did not realize the importance of the railroad to Galesburg.  It is literally the reason the city exists. The Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad was created through the merger of smaller companies with track heading in all four directions from Galesburg in 1854.  While every direction was important, the most important line was with Chicago.  During the late 1800s all railroad traffic heading west came through Galesburg.  Consequently, the rail yard at Galesburg became massive covering many miles of track and at least three switching depots.  The CB&Q was part of the merger in 1970 that created Burlington Northern which still operates the rail yard as a major switching location today.  Galesburg was and is a true railroad town.  Beginning in 1974 the city began annual tours of the rail yard during their Galesburg Railroad Days and from this grew the railroad museum.  From the outside it does not appear to be much of a museum and would only take a few minutes to explore.  However, it is jammed packed to bursting with railroad memorabilia and artifacts that should really be displayed a museum twice the size.  Even then they do their best to organize the items and provide some explanation of what is being displayed.  We learned quite a bit about how trains were scheduled and manned back at the turn of the century.  It was quite an impressive operation.  However, the real highlight are the four rolling stock they have on display outside the museum.  Since we were the only visitors in the museum that morning, Kal and I got our own private tour of the cars and we took full advantage of it.  On site, they have one of the few massive 2-6-4 steam locomotives still in working condition; a combination Railway Post Office and Express Delivery cars for pickup, sorting, and delivery of mail and mail orders; an all steel constructed caboose; and a restored Pullman parlor car.  We learned a lot about the use of each of these and even got to ring the bell on the locomotive!  Pretty cool.  It was a nice way to spend a few hours out of the heat of the day.

The weather on Wednesday was blistering with temperatures into the mid-90s during the afternoon.  We decided to wait on the weather and just stayed in the campground where I got caught up on this blog.

A nice cold front came through on Thursday, which meant a good chance of rain.  So we started the day doing laundry and cleaning the RV and for the afternoon headed southeast on the interstate to Peoria.  The Par-A-Dice Casino on the Illinois River was our destination for the afternoon, which was a repeat from the spring on our way north.  Neither of us did very well at the casino although we managed to “break even” on a number of slot machines, which meant we got to play a long time.

The weather was much nicer on Friday so we decided to explore the Johnson-Sauk Trail State Recreation Area to find a hike.  This trip took us very close to Bishop Hill that we visited last week, which is one of the reasons I like to go at least two hours between stops.  As the name implies, this state park incorporates the old Indian trail between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River that stayed south of the Great Willow Swamp.  This a rolling glacial moraine with a number of short trails through the park.  Other visitors came for the nice campground and water activities on the lake, but we were interested in the hiking trails.  Unfortunately, some of the nicer loop trails were closed for Dove Hunting, so we had to “create” our own loop trail.  We combined two 0.5 mile and a 1 mile trail together to get a nice 2 mile hike through the upland hardwood forests of northwestern Illinois.  The trails were listed as moderate, but in reality they were fairly easy with few short uphill climbs.  We certainly enjoyed the cooler weather brought by the cold front.

Once again we spent the weekend at the campground watching Texas A&M lose to Alabama and streaming the Auburn victory over Arkansas.  It was a nice quiet weekend.

September, 2018 – Moline, Illinois

After spending the summer in Wisconsin and Michigan, it was time to explore western Illinois along the Mississippi River.  However, our trip south from Dubuque took us into Iowa along US 61 since the Mississippi River makes a big loop to the east.  Once we hit Interstate 80 outside of Davenport, we turned east to cross the big river a couple of hours later to East Moline, Illinois and our next Corps of Engineers Campgrounds at Fishermans Corner.  What with all the rain over the past two weeks we knew that the Mississippi River crested on Thursday in Moline with flooding along the river.  In addition, we saw as we approached Davenport, that the rivers were outside their banks.  So I was apprehensive about the condition of the COE campground which we knew was on the banks of the river.  Since we had not heard from them, we hoped everything would be fine.  Thankfully, the campground showed no sign of any flood damage and our first task upon arrival was to fill our fresh water tank since the campground once again had no water hookups at each site.  It was good that we knew the campsite I had reserved since the check-in booth was open only from 5-8 during the week.  We stopped at the booth while I went to check out our site and whether there was a water spigot close enough.  I was fairly certain we would be able to reach the closest spigot, but I was concerned about backing into the site with a tree blocking the corner at the front of the site and wooden posts across the narrow campground road.  It was going to be a challenge.  Thankfully, the campground host saw us discussing the situation and offered us another site that was reserved for volunteers that they would not need that week.  It was certainly an improvement with a small parking lot across from the site and a water spigot within easy reach of the RV.  Once again it was fortunate that we travel on Mondays when the campgrounds are as open as possible.  It turned out that this campground was very busy all week begin so close to the Quad Cities and all of the sites were already reserved.  For COE Campgrounds, Fishermans Corner is a small campground with only about 50 sites, which are squeezed together around two small circles between the highway and river.  Although small with barely enough room for a picnic table at the extreme back of the site, it was still a very nice campground.  We were again within 100 feet of a railroad track that you crossed coming into the campground, but we saw only a few small trains hauling a couple of tanker cars to and from the 3M plant during the day.  After the previous week, we could easily live with this.

Once again Tuesday was spent with Kal going into Moline to find a laundramat while I cleaned the RV.  It appeared that finally we were going to have a week without a lot of rain.

As predicted, Wednesday was sunny and warm with temperatures in the mid 80s so we followed the Mississippi River north to explore some Hopewell Indian Mounds at Albany Indian Mounds State Historic Site at Albany, Illinois.  This is a fairly small state park of about 450 acres consisting of a mixture of woods and restored prairie.  It is the site of an old Hopewell Culture Indian village dating back to around 500 B.C.  The proximity of the Mississippi River and a large slough made it an ideal location for food and water.   However, these conditions also made it a prime location for mosquitoes, especially with the past couple of weeks of rain.  As there was no Visitor Center for the park, we were lucky to find the last brochure for the park at a kiosk that gave us a map of the trails.  Thankfully, they were keeping the path mowed along the edge of the prairie so it was easy to follow from the parking lot.  However, the sun, mid-morning heat, and mosquitoes made it a miserable hike.  In addition, the Hopewell mounds are burial mounds that are only about a meter in height and completely lost in the grass.  After trying to figure out where some of the mounds on the map were actually located, we were ready to just give up and circled around back to the truck.

By this point it was only around 10:00, so Kal found another possibility in the GPS.  Only a few miles further north was the town of Fulton where there was an authentic Dutch windmill, so we decided to check it out.  It turns out that the de Immigrant Windmill in Fulton is an authentic “reproduction” of a Dutch windmill.  Due to the large number of Dutch immigrants in the area, the citizens of Fulton tried to obtain a real Dutch windmill, but found that all of the windmills in Holland are prized and respected landmarks.  So they had a Dutch company that works to restore these windmills to construct a new one from scratch.  Once completed, they broke it down and shipped it to Illinois.  Thus there is now an authentic Dutch windmill on the banks of the Mississippi River that was dedicated in 2000.  It is a beautiful example of a large Dutch windmill that they use from time to time to grind corn and wheat.  Since they only grind enough to sell to tourists, it is not operated very often or for very long.  Unfortunately, there was not sufficient wind while we were there and the windmill was not operating.  However, we did spend the better part of an hour talking with the local volunteers at the windmill as they gave Kal and I an extensive tour of the workings of the windmill.  In addition, we spent time across the street at their windmill museum where a local artist has constructed a large collection of working models of windmills from all over the world.  Each model had a description of where it was from, the time period, and how it operated.  While the large windmill at Fulton was for grinding grain, most windmills around the world were for the manipulation of water.  They either pumped up water from wells and streams or drained water from agricultural land.  I would list the de Immigrant Windmill as one of the unexpected jewels on our travels and highly recommend it if you are ever in the Davenport area.

WindmillFront

Thursday was another beautiful day so we headed southeast through the brown corn fields of northwestern Illinois to the Bishop Hill Colony State Historic Site.  On the way we also passed through an very large wind generation system in the corn fields that are becoming more common everywhere we travel.  We entered the town of Bishop Hill from the north, which was obviously not the common way to the town since we saw no signs for the State Historic Site.  We eventually came across the Henry County Historical Museum on a side street and decided to ask for directions.  Initially they gave us a blank look when we asked about where the site was before giving us directions to the “Visitor Center” on the south edge of the small town.  Since we were already there we decided to give them a donation and explore their small museum housed in the old Elementary School building.  We found a large collection of artifacts donated by the local residents dating back to the early days of the colony in the 1850s.  Unfortunately, there was very little information provided so we were left with our own speculation.  It was a nice museum with a lot of old household and farm implements that was worth the price of admission.

From the museum we proceeded to the south end of town and found the official “Visitor Center” for the Bishop Hill State Historic Site.  They did have a short video giving the history of the colony, but building was devoted to the display of a collection of paintings by a local artist in remembrance of growing up in the colony in the 1850s.  There were some very nice paintings that showed life and faces of the early immigrants living in the colony, but it was not really the reason we came.  We did learn why we got the blank stares from the museum staff as it turns out the entire town of Bishop Hill is the State Historic Site and we had already driven through it.  So we headed back into town to find a parking place armed now with a map of the town.  Our first stop was the Colony Church where we found a lot more about the history of the colony.  In 1846, a group of religious immigrants from Holland followed their charismatic leader, Eric Jansson, to escape religious persecution and establish a communal colony in the New World.  Jansson believed himself to be the Second Coming of Christ and sought to establish a utopian society where everyone worked for the common good of the community.  After a long voyage across the Atlantic and through the Great Lakes, they arrived in the Illinois Territory in the fall of 1846.  The first winter was very difficult and many of the colonists died while living in communal huts built into the side of a ravine.  The next summer the survivors built a wooden church with bedroom apartments on the first floor and basement.  The chapel was on the second floor with separated seating for the sexes.  This church survives today and is the center piece of the historic site.  We met a 70+ descendant of the colony who gave us an extended tour of the church, which we really enjoyed.  We spent over an hour talking with her about the colony and what it was like growing up in Bishop Hill.  She was certainly the highlight of the day.  We came to understand that this colony was a communistic colony with no personal property.  As the colony continued to expand with new immigrants over the next couple of years they built more communal housing, communal kitchens and dining rooms, and communal industries.  These industries included growing flax for linen production, cows for diary production, school, hospital, and shops for blacksmithing, leatherworking, carpentry, and wagon production.  The colony was actually very successful, especially since they embraced the latest technologies, unlike many religious communities that embraced simpler and “purer” lifestyles.  It was interesting to learn that their religious leader, Erik Jansson, was killed in 1850 by a former colony member, John Root, over his interference with Root’s marriage to a cousin of Jansson.  Thus after only a couple of years, they lost their leader that governed the entire colony.  Governance was then taken over by a committee of trustees, but it was doomed to failure.  After some very bad investments by the trustees, the colony was formally disbanded in 1861 once all the property was doled out to the surviving members.

After a nice lunch in their city park next to the church, we went exploring the rest of the town.  Many of the buildings have survived from that time, although only a few are open to the public.  Some of the buildings are now used by local craftsmen as shops and others are private residences. However, you can still see the outside of the buildings at least and marvel at the expanse of the colony.  Unfortunately, the two huge dormitories burned down where the baseball field is today.  At the time, they were supposed to be the two largest buildings west of Chicago and it would have been nice to see them.  However, we did get a look at the outside of many of the other surviving buildings and explored a few of the shops.  We especially enjoyed the Colony store which had a nice selection of Swedish imports and local jellies and preserves.

On Friday, we decided to make a trip into Davenport to the Camping World store to pick up a few items for the RV including a new Teflon plate for the hitch.  On the way back we stopped at the Isle of Capri Casino in Bettendorf, which is one of the Quad Cities.  While it was a mess getting to the casino due to road changes that totally confused the GPS, we found the casino to be very nice on the inside.  As usual it only took about 1.5 hours to go through our stake and as usual one of us did okay and the other lost nearly everything.  However, this time it was my turn to do fairly well coming out a little ahead so in total we were down about $20 for the afternoon.

I spent the better part of Saturday making reservations for the remainder of the year down through Illinois, Tennessee, and Alabama and we also watched some football on the TV.  Sunday was also spent relaxing in the campground.

 

September, 2018 – Dubuque, Iowa

For those following this blog, you know that it has been raining in southwest Wisconsin, on and off, for the past two weeks and this week began no differently.  We got a break on Monday and were able to travel a couple of hours further south along the Mississippi River to the southwestern corner of Wisconsin without being rained on.  Our new location is the Grant River Campground, another Corps of Engineers campground along the Great River.  As before the river has been largely tamed with a series of locks and dams that maintain the water levels for shipping and thus the existence of COE campgrounds.  This week we are just across the river from Dubuque, Iowa so we had a good choice of stores and restaurants to choose from.  Unfortunately, the TV reception was not much better as all of the stations are out of Davenport, still a ways to the south.  When we pulled into Grant River we found that the “office” was only open from 5-8 in the evening during the week, so we were on our own to located our reserved site.  The first stop, however, was to pull into a small parking lot at the boat ramp to fill up our water tank since this campground is another one without water hookups.  Except for this minor deficiency, it was a lovely campground, well maintained by the Corps and had a nice view of the Mississippi River.  Unfortunately, our campsite had us facing away from the river and directly at the railroad tracks about 50 feet away.  In addition, I had managed to reserve the only campsite in the entire campground without a concrete pad for the RV.  Instead we were on gravel, which again was not really a problem.  The real problem turned out to be the railroad tracks!!!  During the afternoon a large train pulling 70-100 cars roared by at maximum speed every half hour.  As I mentioned we were only about 50 feet from the tracks and no more than 100 feet from the crossing where the road into the campgrounds went over the tracks.  This meant that trains traveling in either direction were blasting their horns at us multiple times as they approached the crossing!!  We thought it was kind of a novel experience hearing the horns and feeling the RV tremble every half hour.  However, when this nonsense continued throughout the night, with a train at least every hour, it became too much.  We talked with the volunteers when we checked in at 5:00, who said the traffic was about twice normal due to the flood damage we had witnessed last week.  However, even at half the traffic, it would have been a real problem, especially at night.  I guess they never got the backlog cleared up during the week, as we continued to see huge trains with 3-5 locomotives every 20-30 minutes all week!!  By the end of the week, we were more tired from not getting a good night sleep then by any other thing we did during the day.

Rather than making dinner that night, Kal agreed to check out the local Potosi Brewery in the nearby town of that name.  It was an interesting place since they had taken over an entire block of the town with their brewery, bottling, museum, and restaurant.  We had a nice dinner along with 6 five ounce glasses of a sampling of their brews.  There were some very good ones.

BreweryComplex

Once again Tuesday was rainy on and off all day, with the forecast of clearing by Thursday.  So we spent the day getting the laundry done and cleaning the RV.  While it was good to get these chores out of the way, I was ready for it the weather to improve.

Wednesday was another dreary day, although it was mostly just drizzle all day.  For something to do more than anything, we headed into Dubuque to find the Q Casino.  It turns out that this casino is owned by the city and run as a non-profit!!  This was the first time I know of that we have run into such a thing as a casino being a source of revenue for a city, outside of taxes.  In any case, it was a nice casino with a large gaming floor and a wide choice of gaming tables and even a poker room.  We did not care about any of that as we were interested in the slot machines.  As usual it took only a bit than an hour to run though our stake we neither one of us doing very good.  While we did not lose our entire stake, we both lost money for the day.  We went back to the campground in poor spirits, partly due to our gambling luck and partly due to the weather.

As forecasted Thursday did turn out to be a beautiful day.  So we headed south to Illinois heading to the town of Galena.  Last spring we had learned about the importance of lead mining in this area which in part led to the Blackhawk War that Abraham Lincoln served in.  We also knew it was the location of the only home associated with President Ulysses S Grant.  Our first stop in Galena was his home on top of a hill across the river from downtown.  We learned that Grant and his wife moved to Galena from St. Louis after he left the army after a 15 year career.  He was an unsuccessful businessman on his own in St. Louis and moved there to assist his brothers in his father’s leathergoods store in 1860.  He spent the winter of 1860-61 traveling extensively in the northwest meeting with customers before rejoining the army in 1861 when the Civil War broke out.  He began commissioned as a Colonel in the 21st Illinois Volunteer Regiment, but was quickly promoted to more senior commands.  Following his great success in the Civil War, Grant returned to Galena to a hero’s celebration.  In recognition of his notoriety, a small group of Galena businessmen bought his a nice home, fully furnished, to present to General Grant.  He only lived there a few years, as he was elected to be President in 1868 and moved to D.C.  Although he returned to visit from time to time, he continued to use it as his permanent address.  Following his death, his children continued to keep the house as a memorial to their father and eventually gave it to the city of Galena who eventually turned it over to the state.  Since nobody lived in the house since Grant moved out, nearly all of the furnishings are original.  This was amazing until I recalled that the house came fully furnished.  No wonder the furnishings looked mismatched without any true theme since it probably does not reflect the Grant’s tastes at all.  Even then it was an interesting collection of period pieces and artifacts and our tour guide was a lot of fun.  After the tour of the home, we spent some time checking out the statue of Julia Grant in front of the house and the spectacular views of the town of Galena across the Galena River.   After the weeks of cloudy and dreary skies, the bright sunshine on the roofs and steeples in town was amazing.  We also checked out the country store they had moved to a location next to the house and their other attempts to turn this into an historic district.

Following exploring Grant’s home and surrounding area, we were ready for lunch.  So we headed off down the hill to the banks of the Galena River where we found Grant’s park.  Here is the “official” location of the statue of Grant along with a number of artillery pieces from the wars the citizens of Galena served in.  Of particular note was the actual first rifled cannon fired during the Civil War against Fort Sumter.  How the town of Galena ended up with this cannon after its extensive use during the Civil War was pretty amazing.

After lunch we were ready to explore more of Galena and I was interested in finding out more about the history of lead mining in the history.  Therefore, we headed into town to find the Galena and U.S. Grant Museum.  This was a great find since I found a complete history of the town during its heyday as a lead mining metropolis to the years of dominating steamboat traffic on the upper Mississippi.  The existence of lead sulfide in the area is due to two factors.  First, there are extensive limestone deposits from an ancient seabed that have been filled with nodules of lead and zinc from ancient hot springs.  Second, the region was missed by the last ice age which scoured off these limestone deposits from the area to the east and west.  The presence of lead was well known by the local Indians who had been using the lead for ornaments and body paints for centuries.  The presence of these deposits was noted on French maps from the 1600s and there were a few attempts to mine the lead as early as 1790.  With the first official mining lease in 1822, the first mining boom in the US was begun.  As the number of lead mines and population of Galena continued to increase the economic importance of Galena on the Upper Mississippi River began to dominate the region.  It became a major steamboat port through the 1840s but then the tide began to turn.  Deforestation and mining operations soon silted up the Galena River where the town was still three miles from the Mississippi.  In addition, railroads were expanding opening up east-west routes instead of the north-south river routes and Chicago became the major hub instead of Galena.  However, the biggest problem was the decline in the demand and price of lead which put many mines out of business.  The final straw was the Civil War which limited trade along the contested Mississippi and drained most of the work force from the town.  Galena never recovered and almost became a ghost town.  However, due to its proximity to Chicago it became a favorite location for artists and began to be known as an artist community.  This group began moving in, renovating the boarded up shops and homes and today Galena is a preserved snapshot of the architecture of a prosperous pre-Civil War town.  In addition to all this history, the museum also has one of the original lead mine shafts uncovered when they added an addition to the building that you can look down into.  The second floor is mostly devoted to Grant and the Civil War.  The most interesting part of this exhibit was the story of the other 8 Civil War Generals that came from Galena, the most from any single city in the Union.  Of course, some of these were promotions after their death, but still it was an impressive accomplishment.  After spending nearly 3 hours in the museum, we were both pretty much done for the day and headed back to the campground.

Friday was another beautiful day, although a bit overcast, and I was ready for a hike.  For this reason we went in search of the Mines of Spain State Recreation Area outside of Dubuque, Iowa.  We made the mistake of letting our GPS take us to the Mines of Spain and it led us to the south entrance of the park, which was the wrong end.  Without any information about the hiking trails, we first wanted to find some kind of Visitor Center.  As we drove through the park, passing one trailhead after another, we came upon the Julian Dubuque Memorial, so we checked it out.  This turned out to be the burial spot of Julian Dubuque, the first European settler in the area from whom the city of Dubuque is named.  Back in 1788, Julian Dubuque, a Frenchman from Quebec, obtained a signed agreement with the Meskwaki Indians giving him the right to mine for lead in the area along the Mississippi River.  Since the territory west of the Mississippi was Spanish territory at the time, he also obtained a land grant from Spain in 1796 and thus the name Mines of Spain.  He was never very successful mining for lead but he continued to live in the area, trade with the Indians, and even marry the daughter of the local chief.  When he died the Indians erected a log crypt over his grave which was replaced by the stone tower that rises above the Mississippi River today.

After checking this out we once again went in search for some kind of Visitor Center.  A map we saw at a couple of the trailheads showed an E.B Lyons Interpretive Center that sounded promising, but the maps were not clear on how to get there.  After going all the way back to the southern entrance, we finally figured out that the entrance to the Interpretive Center was on a residential street, not the Recreation Area.  We finally found the Interpretive Center where we found the information we needed and a nice trails map.  Of course, by this point we had wasted the entire morning, so we went in search of a hiking trail after eating lunch at the center.  As the terrain was very hilly, we were neither very sure we wanted to take on any of the moderate hikes and the difficult ones were out of the question.  Therefore, we choose an easy 2 mile loop trail on top of a ridge.  This turned out to be a very nice hike along the edge of a restored long-grass prairie, with convenient swings through the cool wooded ravine that had benches.  Thankfully, the weather remained cloudy limiting the effect of the warm afternoon sun hiking in the open.  While not the hike I was looking for when we set out, it was still a nice walk through the tall grasses of the prairie and made for a successful day.

As usual the weekend was time to relax in the campground and get caught up on this blog.  At least relax as much as we could with noisy rumbling trains whipping past every half hour!!  We were sure glad to leave this campground in search of more peace and quiet.

August, 2018 – LaCrosse, Wisconsin

After some steady rain on Sunday, we were fortunate that it stopped sooner than forecast and we were able to hook up the RV after it had dried off.   With more rain in the forecast for Monday we headed southwest out of Wisconsin Rapids towards LaCrosse on the Mississippi River.  We ran through some sprinkles along the way but had enough time to get set up at our new location, Blackhawk Park Corp of Engineers campground, right alongside the main channel of the Mississippi River.  The most amazing part of the trip was the change in topography.  Most of the trip was through rolling hills, until we got to within about 10 miles of the Mississippi River.  At this point the topography became very hilly with steep sided valleys.  As we learned at a Wayside stop we pulled into, this is the Driftless Region that extends through the southwest corner of Wisconsin into Iowa, Minnesota, and Illinois.  Due to some very hard rock formations the last ice age bypassed this area flowing instead to the east and west of the region.  The glaciers scoured off the tops of the hills to the east and west, but left this region alone which is evident by the lack of glacial drift and thus the name.  Most of the area is dominated by limestone from ancient seas and over time hot springs had forced lead and zinc into the porous limestone.  The native Indians had been mining the lead for hundreds of years and French voyagers knew about the lead deposits way back in the 1700s.  This led to an fascinating history of the region that we will explore more fully in the future.  Once we got to the Mississippi River Valley south of LaCrosse, we entered a different world with 400 foot bluffs on both sides of the river and just a narrow strip of land for the highway and railroad right alongside the Mississippi.  This was certainly not what I expected!!

After a nearly 3 hour drive, we timed it just about perfect, pulling in at 2:00 when their office opened up.  We pulled the RV down to the site I had reserved only to discover that it was going to be too small to park the truck with the RV.  In addition, it was angled backwards on their one-way road around the campgrounds and a large tree right at the entrance was going to make it VERY difficult to back the RV in.  Fortunately, one of the rangers saw us pulling in and met us at the site.  He agreed that it was not going to be easy to get into the site and offered any of a number of open first-come, first-served campsites.  Again the advantage of traveling on Mondays came to our rescue.  Since it was already threatening rain, we wanted to get set up quickly and pulled the RV around to a one of a very few pull-through sites they had.  We were able to pull easily into the site and get hooked to the electric, which was 50 amp instead of the 30 amp I had reserved.  Unfortunately the flush toilet bathroom and showers were on their other loop and all we had on this loop was a pit toilet.  Since we have our own showers, this was no problem and we were fine all week with their pit toilet.  We also had a very nice view from our site of the Mississippi River and the barge traffic as the channel wound around the many large islands in the area.  Bottom line was that we were very much happier with this site then the one I could reserve and thankful they let us move.  Soon after we got hooked up, the skies opened up with intermittent thunderstorms all afternoon.  As we found out over the week, it was definitely the monsoon season along the upper Mississippi River as we had only two days without rain all week.  On Monday, the heaviest rain fell in LaCrosse which had flash flooding that evening as the storms “trained” over their location.

Campsite

The weather on Tuesday was no better, as we had storms literally all day and it was our turn to be “trained” in the evening.  We had over 8 inches of rain on Tuesday and thankfully the campgrounds was not prone to flash flooding.  The town of Coon Valley, that we had passed close to the day before, had serious flooding in the town and the rain closed WI 35 to the north, cutting us off from LaCrosse.  It also caused major damage to the train tracks along the river, interrupting a VERY busy train track most of the week.  Even though we did not suffer a “flash flood”, the rain was heavy enough to create a 3 inch deep lake directly off the steps.  Thankfully the gravel pad was high enough that we maintained a 3″ wide path to the front of the RV, from which we could circle around the road to the truck which was parked at the back of the RV.  We did manage to drive south to cross the Mississippi into a grocery store in Lansing, Iowa before the heavy rain hit in the afternoon, so we were well supplied for an extended period if necessary.  We also checked with the rangers about the danger of flooding from the Mississippi which would force us to move.  Generally, they have about a week’s warning for any flooding of the Mississippi and projections at Fleming showed a peak of a couple of feet below the level where they would evacuate the campgrounds and this would not be until Thursday.  So we felt somewhat safe staying where we were.

Flooding

Wednesday was cloudy and cool with only a slight chance for more rain.  The highway north was still closed, so our only option was to head south.  This was fine with us, since we were very interested in exploring Effigy Mounds National Monument which is just north of Marquette, Iowa that is across the Mississippi from Prairie du Chen.  Since the Effigy Mounds are on top of the bluff we figured they would still be accessible after all the rain.  As we expected, we had full access to the Effigy Mounds.  After exploring the exhibits in the Visitor Center, we headed out on the trail to the mounds.  Of course, since the mounds were on top of the bluff, this meant an arduous trek up a series of switchbacks to the top 400 feet above the river.  Once we got on top of the bluff the trail was essentially level.  The Fire Point Trail is a loop trail, so we decided to first hike along the edge of the bluff to get some great views of the Mississippi River Valley before checking out the mounds.  The Little Bear Mound Group begins with a small bear shaped Effigy Mound and then is a long series of about 20 circular mounds leading out to Fire Point.  Thankfully, they keep the entire area mowed as the mounds are no more than a few feet tall and would disappear under any ground foliage.  It is interesting that they use of burial mounds in the shape of animals, i.e. Effigy Mounds, is primarily restricted to the corner of where Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois come together, extending east to Lake Michigan.  While the simpler circular burial mounds date back thousands of years to the Early Woodland Periods, the use of Effigy Mounds dates back to the Late Woodland Period from 1400-750 B.P.  They often used older mounds, simply adding to them as archeological evidence of artifacts found in the few mounds that have been excavated.  There is quite a confusing history of mound building that they do a good job explaining in the Visitor Center.  From the start of the Little Bear Mound Group it is only an additional 0.25 miles to check out the Great Bear Mound Group.  The main attraction of this group is the Great Bear Mound which 42 meters long and about a meter high.  Even then it is a little difficult to make out on the ground and pictures just can not do it justice.  The trail then goes nearly all the way around a smaller bear mound which is more easily seen because of the changing perspective.  At this point we were both ready for lunch so we made the hike back to the truck which was must faster heading downhill.

After lunch we explored another interpretive trail from the Visitor Center along the Yellow River.  This boardwalk was a nice easy walk along the banks of the Yellow River.  Along it we learned that the Visitor Center is actually on the site of an Indian village which at one time had a large number of mounds where the parking lot is today.  Unfortunately, farms had already destroyed all but three of these mounds before the land was set aside for the National Monument.  This is also the case for nearly all of the thousands of mounds that once dotted the landscape all the way to Lake Michigan.  The bluffs in the Driftless Area made this area unsuitable for farming and thus protected the mounds overlooking the Mississippi and is the reason the National Monument is at the extreme western edge.  There are some other trails to more mounds, in particular the Marching Bear Group to the south, but since the trail to the top of the bluff goes straight up we decided strongly against it.  Both of us had had enough of climbing for the day.

Thursday was another beautiful day and now that the highway to LaCrosse had opened one lane, we decided to head into LaCrosse in search of one of the Visitor Center for the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife Refuge.  This refuge is the largest refuge in the lower 48 states encompassing 240,000 acres along 261 river miles.  It is part of the very important Mississippi Flyway for migratory birds and this is its primary purpose.  It extends from Wabasha, Minnesota to the north to Cordova, Illinois to the south on both sides of the Mississippi.  In fact, the COE campground we stayed in is about halfway through the refuge in the LaCrosse District.  The Visitor Center for this district is just north of LaCrosse. We had some trouble finding it, since our GPS took us to a small office in LaCrosse instead of the new Visitor Center.  They gave us a map to the Visitor Center, from which we found it with no problem.  It is a very new facility and had some nice exhibits about the river habitat and wildlife.  It also had information about restoration efforts to recover the islands in the river.  For shipping purposes, the upper Mississippi has a series of dams to maintain river levels of 9 feet for barges.  This has created a series of “pools” which has been a great benefit for some migratory species.  However, other species depend on the island habitat which was destroyed erosion caused by these pools.  They have had marginal success in restoring some of the islands with more work to come.  Unfortunately, when we asked the volunteer at the desk about hiking trails, we got basically a blank stare.  Since most of the recreational activities on the refuge is by small boats, I guess there is not much interest in walking.  After a few minutes he told us about some local hiking trails in the area, but none of them were on the refuge.  However, with all the rain, he was concerned about the accessibility of the trails and so were we.  Therefore, we decided to limit ourselves to a 2 mile loop trail they had at the Visitor Center through their restored tall grass prairie.  While I greatly appreciate their efforts to restore an important habitat that was very prevalent pre-settlement, I must admit that it sill looks like just an abandoned field.  I suppose part of this impression was due to the proximity of industrial buildings and a residential area next to the river which ended up in most of the pictures we took.  In any case we saw a lot of beautiful yellow goldenrod, black-eyed Susan, and sunflowers alongside tall stalks of Indian grass and big bluestem.    After eating lunch in the truck, Kal complained again about the tires.  Once I got out of the truck and watched the tires, I could clearly see the driver side tire wobble.  Kal found a distinctive bulge in the tire indicating belt separation.  So we headed into a Tire Plus store in LaCrosse and got two new front tires.  She was certainly correct about the tires as the ride got noticeably smoother.  Instead of returning immediately we splurged further and bought a new lawnchair and hat at Gander Outdoors before finding a Mexican restaurant for supper.

After two clear days, Friday was the beginning of the next round of storms over Labor Day Weekend.  The rain was suppose to start in the afternoon, so in the morning we drove over to Lansing, Iowa to check out Mt. Hosmer City Park that had been recommended.  After an uphill climb in the truck around some switchback that were too tight for the truck without backing up, we reached the top of Mt Hosmer, 450 feet above the river.  We were rewarded with a panoramic view of the Mississippi River Valley!!  It was spectacular.

Since there was not much else to do on Mt Hosmer once we took all the pictures we wanted, we headed back south again to Marquette, Iowa.  By this point it had started to rain lightly again, so we did not feel guilty about checking out the Casino Queen.  The Casino Queen is a replica of a large steamboat that carried passengers and freight up and down the Mississippi River back in mid 1800s.  It is three floors of slot machines, gaming tables, and even a restaurant.  We spent our time on the third floor which gave some great views of the river out the windows in the front of the ship.  While the river could be distracting, we managed to spend a couple of hours in the casino.  While Kal had a miserable time, I could not seem to lose.  She spent her stake while I was still on my first $10, having won enough that we came out in total ahead by about $50.  That they way it often goes with one of us having a great time while the other wonders why we bother.

As forecasted the entire Labor Day Weekend was a bust due to the weather.  It rained a good part of both Saturday and Sunday maintaining our lake in front of the camper all weekend.  Thankfully, the rain was not heavy for the most part so there was no additional flooding in the area outside of a few short flash floods and we never could tell the Mississippi had risen at all during the week.  We were lucky that the Auburn-Washington football game was on TV, so were able to watch the game without traveling anywhere on Saturday.

August, 2018 – Wisconsin Rapids

The last leg of our two split weeks was a 2.5 hour trip southwest to Wisconsin Rapids.  I was sorry to be leaving the northwoods with its spruce and fir as we now headed into the mixed pine/hardwood forests of central Wisconsin.  I look forward next year to return to the northwoods when we explore northwestern Wisconsin and the state of Minnesota.  In any case, our next stop was Deer Trail Park Campground between Wisconsin Rapids and Nekoosa on the Wisconsin River.  When we pulled into Wisconsin Rapids we began seeing multiple signs about road construction ahead on WI 13 with an 11′ width restriction.  This made Kal extremely nervous as she was convinced we were between 12 and 13 feet wide.  I was not so sure, but I did want to take any chances either.  Before we crossed the Wisconsin River, there was a sign for a detour on WI 73, but since this was going to be on the wrong side of the river, we decided against it. However, Kal got more and more nervous and when we pulled up to the beginning of the road construction she bailed out and pulled into an Applebees parking lot to turn around.  While we took a quick break I got out a measuring tape to check our width and found it to be just less than 8 feet.  The 13 foot width we were worried about had to do with campsites once we put the slides out.  Now that we were sure we would alright we proceeded to go through the construction zone.  We had nothing to worry about as we had more room here then we had dealt with multiple times in the past.  When we made a right turn onto WI 73, I realized that we could have gone that way as well, as it crossed the Wisconsin River just before the turn on County Road Z into our campground.  We got another surprise when we turned onto County Road Z as it was also closed ahead due to a bridge.  Thankfully, our GPS gave the campground as 4 miles away and the road was closed just over 12 miles ahead.  We did not have to find a way to turn the RV around as we came to Deer Trail Park Campground well before the bridge that was out.  I was surprised to see how large Deer Trail Park Campground was as I was under the impression it was a small RV Park.  However, there were over 100 sites, of which a large number were for transient campers.  We had a very nice pull through site that was plenty long enough for big rigs.  Getting in and setting up was very easy.  The only strange thing was having to share electrical and water pedestals with our neighbor, which meant we would in effect be sharing a “front yard” with our other neighbor.  Thankfully, they try to rent every other site to minimize this and we did not have anyone on the site next to us all weekend.  That evening we were visited by a Wisconsin native camping near by interested in knowing why we were so “far from home” and whether we knew where Waverly, Georgia was.  It turns out he is the proud owner of a logging company that used Franklin skidders, which has been out of business for a number of years.  There was this guy in Waverly that had a large supply of replacement parts for Franklin skidders and he was going there this fall to stock up on parts.  We had a good time talking about forestry in Wisconsin and his experiences cutting wood to supply the many pulp mills along the Wisconsin River in the area, including a large paper mill in Nekoosa.  We had a great time talking with him a couple of more times over the weekend.

Campsite

I am beginning to believe that this must be the rainy season for Wisconsin as there was again heavy rain on Friday with predictions for additional rain on Sunday and Monday.  This meant another trip to a casino on Friday and since there was one literally just across the Wisconsin River from us, it was an easy decision to make.  This time it was back to another of the Ho Chunk Gaming Casinos, this time in Nekoosa.  All of the Ho Chunk Casinos in Wisconsin have been nice, but this was my favorite.  It had a great selection of slot machines that we could choose from in a very nice atmosphere.  Kal did not have a good time, quickly losing her stake.  However, I did fairly well with two large jackpots so we just about broke even for the day.  Even though she did not have much fun, I found it quite enjoyable.  Go figure?

Saturday was going to be our only chance to get out before it started raining again, however, Kal was not interested in traveling over an hour to a potential hiking trail at a state park.  Therefore, I decided to take the truck and check out one of the four disc golf courses close to Wisconsin Rapids.  Since the other courses were only 9 holes I choose to play the disc golf course at South Wood County Park which had 12 holes.  This park surrounds the 148 acre Lake Wazeecha, a few miles outside of Wisconsin Rapids.  It is stretched out all along the shore of the lake with multiple small parking lots and facilities.  It took a while to find the right one with the disc golf course, but I finally found the right one.  The course is squeezed into a very small area between the road and lake.  It is on both sides of a heavily used bike/hiking trail, at least on a nice Saturday afternoon.  Much of the course is heavily traveled since the bathroom is located at the parking lot instead of near the picnic areas along the lake.  This made the course difficult to figure out as there were few obvious paths to the next tee box.  All of the fairways are less than 300 feet, which are short, but the large number of trees still made it a challenging course.  Especially for me, since I tend to hit a tree on just about every tee shot.  There are even a couple of fairways where you have to be careful not to throw your disc into the lake.  I had a good afternoon playing disc golf and watching all the people enjoying a bite to eat, swimming, water skiing, or being bounced around on an inner tube behind a speeding boat.  More than once I saw kids being thrown into the air.

As predicted, Sunday developed into another day of thunderstorms by late afternoon while we spent the time relaxing and enjoying each other’s company.  I did find some time to work on this blog in and around all the day’s activities.

August, 2018 – Rhinelander, Wisconsin

Leaving the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, we traveled basically west crossing over our path north last spring.  We traveled to a different campground south of Rhinelander, Pelican Lake Campground.  As the name implies it is on the shores of Pelican Lake with access to the lake across the road from the campground itself.  Pelican Lake Campground is a medium sized campground that is mostly filled with seasonal RV, few of which were occupied during the three nights we stayed there.  The owners were extremely friendly and helpful, even providing assistance with backing the RV onto a grassy site.  In fact, he was a little too helpful.  Initially I came in too wide and was in the center of the site instead of the left edge.  Since the hookups were all at the extreme back end of the site, it was questionable whether the electric cord would reach the pedestal.  The owner wanted me to reposition the RV over a couple of feet, which I attempted to do.  However, with a series of decorative rocks across the dirt road meant I could not pull up very far.  I should have known that I could not move the RV over much more than a foot at a time and he steered the back end all the way into the corner.  Of course, this meant I could not straighten up the front end before running out of room.  By the time I pulled up and tried it again, I ended up at almost a 45 degree angle in the site.  Disgusted, I pulled out to start over again and this time came in so tight that I nearly ran over their wooden post and small tree.  However, this angle got me straight into the site at the extreme left side. Of course, this meant the slides would push against the branches of a balsam fir and maple tree, but I was not about to move the RV again.  We unhooked the RV, got it leveled, and put out the slides.  When Kal went into the RV she could not get the TV remote to work to scan for channels.  After replacing the batteries, she realized we had no power coming to the RV.  Checking our fancy surge protector, it indicated a faulty ground wire on the pedestal and refused to operate.  We went back up to the office to let them know and hoped we were not looking at having to rehook the RV and move to a different site.  The owner came out with testing equipment, but before opening up the pedestal he asked us to check the 30 amp hookup.  This seemed to be fine and we would be okay with just 30 amps.  However, before he left I had Kal try the 50 amp again and sure enough it was now fine as well.  I don’t know it he has a loose ground wire or if the surge protector had a glitch, but we had no more problems while we were there.  Strange.  The only real drawback to the campground was the placement of the dump site.  It was located on the wrong side which meant we would have to circle around twice through the campground in order to use it.  Since we were only staying for three nights, we decided not to dump the tanks when we left on Thursday.

Campsite

Especially since we had already checked out the area last spring, we did not have any plans for the next three days.  Since Tuesday threatened rain all day, we decided to drive over to Mole Lake to check out the casino there.  It is a small casino, but had plenty of slot machines to spend a couple of hours playing.  We did about average for the two of us, coming out losing over half of our stake, but still had a pretty good time.

Wednesday was another slow day with me cleaning the RV while Kal got the laundry taken care of.  The rest of the day was spent working on this blog and relaxing in the campground.