October, 2019 – Demopolis, Alabama

By Thursday we were finished with all the things we had to deal with in Birmingham and were more than ready to get our life back to normal.  However, we still had some miles to go to get to Texas for the winter, but we had the month of October to do it.  So we did not have to travel far each week and our first trip was just two hours to Demopolis to stay again in Forkland Park, a COE campground we stayed in a couple of years ago.  The trip was much shorter, but the weather continued to be brutal with temperatures in the upper 90s again.  Kal made the mistake of not checking the calendar before setting the GPS systems and thought we were going to Foscue Park which is just outside of Demopolis.  I will admit that I did not double check it until we arrived at Foscue Park.  I tried to talk her into seeing if we could change our reservations, but she was adamant that we go back to Forkland, which we had passed about 10 miles north.  So we got back in the truck and went back to Forkland.  This is a very nice park with spacious sites along the Black Warrior River.  Much more to our liking than the commercial parks we have been staying in for the past two months.

Especially with the brutal temperatures, we had very little interest in doing anything for the long weekend as we would be leaving on Monday.  Kal did drive into Demopolis on Friday to do laundry while I cleaned the RV.  Other than that we did not do anything except relax in the campground and finish the huge blog on the accident.  The weather finally broke on Sunday with rain and cooler temperatures.  Hopefully, we have seen the last of summer and I feel sorry for all of you that have been dealing with these temperatures all summer.  While it was a shock to come from 60s in Wisconsin to the 90s in Alabama, at least it was just for a couple of weeks.

September, 2019 – The Accident

I know it has been over a month since my last post and most of you know this was because of an accident that totaled our King Ranch.  However, before telling you that prolonged tale, there was some pleasant days that fit with our normal experiences.  The week in northern Wisconsin started out nice enough with a three hour trip south from Ely, Minnesota, around Duluth and Superior to the Top O’ The Morn Resort about halfway from Superior to Ashland, Wisconsin.  Top O’ The Morn Resort is a couple of miles south of US 2 winding along backroads that were at least paved, but there were adequate signs for the resort along the way so we were not too concerned about getting stuck without a place to get turned around.  Once we got to the resort we found it was on the shores a very nice lake tucked back in the northwoods with large white pine, oaks, birches, and maples trees.  Our site was down a little hill and backing into a nice site on the shores of the lake.  The site was easy to back into since there was a large turn around at that point for boat trailers at their boat ramp.  We found the owners to be very nice, especially when we found out their names were Gregg and Kathleen.  Their free WiFi was not too bad and the TV reception was surprisingly good, although our phone reception with Verizon was terrible.

Our purpose in traveling back to Wisconsin was to visit the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore on Lake Superior that we were unable to visit last year due to our extended stay traveling back and forth through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  We knew the best way to see the Apostle Islands was by boat so we immediately booked a tour out of Bayfield, Wisconsin for Wednesday.  We also saw a show on PBS about historic train rides in the country and learned about a neat Dinner Train on the Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad in Trego, so we booked this trip for Thursday evening.  We spent Tuesday doing laundry and cleaning the RV while making the reservations for the rest of the week.

We got an early start on Wednesday morning to catch our 10:00 reservation for the boat tour out of Bayfield.  We took the scenic road by going north to the shores of Lake Superior and then east along the lake to Bayfield.  We were there in plenty of time and the weather was beautiful and calm with very little chop on the lake.  We learned that the Apostle Islands consist of 21 separate islands, all of which are part of the National Lakeshore, except for the largest island, Madelaine.  This island was well settled by the time the National Lakeshore was established and has remained private.  Thus the tour  traveled close to most of the other islands.  Some of the islands barely extend above the lake, while others are at least a hundred feet above the lake.  They are all covered with trees, however, only a few were not logged during the timber boom in the 1800s.  You get to see some of the old sandstone quarries where blocks of red sandstone were cut for construction purposes throughout the mid-West.  There are a couple of the many fishing camps on the islands from back in the day when sturgeon were harvested in Lake Superior.  There are a couple of lighthouses that were restored by the National Park Service.  I was disappointed that we were not allowed to disembark to visit these lighthouses.  You have to either have your own boat or charter a private trip in order to see them.  The best part of the trip was the time we spent around Devil Island. The shore is littered with sea caves where the waves of Lake Superior have undercut the sandstone to create some spectacular caves.  The waters of the lake were very calm while we there so we did not get the full experience of hearing the waves crashing into the caves.  They are especially known for the winter wonderland that is created within the caves as the lake freezes in the winter coating the caves with spectacular icicles.

The boat tour lasted about 2.5 hours, so by the time we returned to Bayfield we were ready for lunch.  We found a nice local bar in town that served a nice lunch along with a craft beer from the area.  After lunch we spent a little time exploring the Apostle Island National Lakeshore Visitor Center, which we did not have time for before the boat tour.  After this we headed south out of Bayfield towards Washburn on the way back to our campground.  After only a few miles south of Bayfield there was a string of brightly colored vintage Corvettes turning onto the highway heading north towards Bayfield.  Partly marveling at the number of old corvettes and partly concerned about them shooting across our lane ahead of us, we did not notice that the truck a little ways ahead of us had stopped to make a left turn waiting for the traffic heading north to clear.  Kal hit the brakes very hard and we managed to stop in time.  However, the RAM 3500 behind us didn’t!!  I still recall looking in the rear view mirror I use to monitor traffic to our right and seeing the truck barreling down on us.  At first, I thought they were going to swerve right, however, the truck ahead of us was just then making its turn off the highway and would have been in their way.  Instead they slammed into the back of our truck going at least 40 mph.  I only had time to shout “look out” before we were hit and shoved violently forward.  I believe that Kal had already taken her foot off the brake getting ready to move when we got hit, since the truck was thrown forward.  Kal was taken totally by surprise, but managed to keep control of the truck and pull off the highway onto the shoulder.  Since we were thrown forward, the air bags did not deploy and the seat belts kept us from flying forward after the impact.  However, the impact did break both front seats as they were now leaning back to almost a horizontal position.  Kal’s glasses and hat were also thrown off her face and into the back seat.  After taking a couple of minutes to access any injuries, none of which were obvious, we exited the truck to assess the damage.  The entire box of the truck was smashed in up to the fifth wheel hitch.  Since the other truck was of a comparable size it appeared their truck went up over the hitch to strike the box.  It was possible the frame was not bent.  They also sustained damage with their front end mashed in and leaking antifreeze.  Nobody seemed to be seriously hurt except for Kal and I with sore necks from the whiplash.  Thankfully, someone called 911 as the highway patrol and ambulances arrived quickly from Ashland.  They took our insurance information and drivers license information and turned us over to the paramedics.  Kal and I were both fitted with neck braces and put into separate ambulances to be taken to the hospital in Ashland.  We were taken to the emergency room at the hospital where for the next three hours we were observed and monitored including CT scans of our necks.  Once they determined there were no serious injuries we were allowed to leave to find out what happened to our truck.  I have to say everyone was exceedingly nice and helpful in everyway possible!  The nurse even offered us some cash to pay for there local bus service to take us to Ron’s Repair and Towing in Washburn where our truck was taken.  The patrol woman even offered us a ride to the campground if we needed it.  However, this was not needed as Ron was willing to loan us a small car for the night after he removed the truck from his trailer since he needed the key which we had naturally not left in the truck.  I finally thought to take some pictures of the damage and we called the insurance company before we left for the evening.  We were both still very shaken not knowing what was going to happen now.

Our goal for the next day was to secure a rental car and return the car Ron loaned us.  However, first we informed Greg and Kathleen about our situation and they began trying to figure out where we could be moved to since the site we were in was booked for Labor Day weekend and did not have a sewer hookup.  We obviously were going to be here for at least a couple of weeks.  We then drove to the Duluth Airport to rent a car from Avis for the foreseeable future, which we started with a two week rental.  Then it was a 2 hour drive back to Washburn to return Ron’s car.  By this point we knew they were going to pick up the truck and take it to Milwaukee to get it assessed, supposedly not until Friday.  As it turned out that did not pick the truck up until the next Tuesday!!  In the meantime I asked Ron if he would remove the fifth wheel hitch and toolbox from the truck so he could install them in the new truck, if they totaled our truck.  While we were there we got everything out of the truck including all my tools in the toolbox and wood we use to level the RV.

After we got the truck unloaded we had one more thing to do.  We had made dinner reservations on the Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad and these reservations were non-refundable.  So it was back into our rental car for another 1.5 hour trip south to Spooner.  We got there with a little time to spare before they loaded us onto the train.  They have quite a collection of vintage railroad cars that have been restored and we got to see both their lounge car and dining car.  As the train was pulling out of the station for its VERY slow trip north, which was only about 10 miles, we were treated to a live piano performance in the lounge car.  While the piano player was not really that good, it was great to finally relax after the past two very trying days.  We were then shown to our seats in the dining car where we enjoyed crab cakes and soup as the train moved along.  You had a choice for the entree, Kal had steak and I had the ribs.  While we ate the main course the train stopped at a nice overlook over River.  Dessert of cheesecake was served while we started back to the station.  It was a great way to spend 2.5 hours watching the scenery and eating a fancy meal.  Those passengers that paid for the Bed and Breakfast trip were shown to their bedrooms for the evening to be followed up with breakfast in the morning.  For us, we exited the train and got into our cars for the 1.5 hour trip back to the campground in the dark.  Both of us had trouble staying awake for the trip.

On Friday we began the process of finding a replacement.  After talking the situation over we had decided that even if they were to fix the truck we were going to trade it in on a new truck.  I had been thinking of trading it in sometime next year anyway as it was starting to give us problems.  This year we had already had to replace the high pressure fuel pump, alternators, and batteries, none of which we cheap.  With our life style I just cannot afford to have problems that put the truck into some unknown repair facility every couple of months.  Besides we had been putting away over $2000 a month from Social Security and had built up a sizeable nestegg to make a large down payment when combined with the value we found on NADA and KBB for the truck in very good condition.  So we headed into Benna Ford to speak with Luke Darwin who Gregg and Kathleen had recommended. We set down with Luke and explained our situation.   They had a nice 2019 Lariat that would be our dream vehicle, but the price tag was too high for the monthly amount we wanted to spend of less than $500, even with a 7 year loan and all the discounts and rebates they were interested in providing.  So we left it with Luke to locate a F350 XLT that would fit our budget.  We also dropped by the local Dodge dealership to have them look into a RAM 3500 that would also do the job, however, I loved our Ford King Ranch and wanted a comparable vehicle if Luke could find one.

Saturday and Sunday were just spent in the campground worrying over the situation and waiting to hear back from everyone.  In fact, over the next month we spent a lot of time doing just hanging out in the campground waiting for people to get back to us.  In fact, instead of giving a day by day accounting over the next month I am going to summarize each thread.  To begin with, was the health insurance.  Since the other vehicle was at fault, their insurance company quickly agreed to pay for the medical expenses.  They contacted us the following Tuesday and we gave them the information about our time in the emergency room.  At the same time we traveled into the hospital to give them the contact at the other insurance company as the primary insurer.  Except for getting a bill a week later for the CT exam that was sent out through Nikki, which was for the doctor who read the CT Scan.  In any case, a phone call to them got them the contact information with the other insurance company and we have yet to hear anything more.  I expect we could still be dealing with this 6 months from now.  Hopefully all bills will go to Nikki so we can deal with them as they come in.

Next was the accident insurance.  As I mentioned earlier, they did not pick up the truck until the Tuesday after the accident and hauled it 6 hours away from our location.  Thankfully, we had emptied out the truck the day we returned the car to Ron the day after the accident, including the license plate.  We gave them a few days for the assessment process to proceed and after a week following the accident I gave them a call only to find out they had effectively “lost” the truck and nothing had been done!!  It did not help that the insurance agent was in North Carolina and the truck was in Wisconsin.  In any case, he assured us he had a priority on the assessment.  The next weekend was the long Labor Day Weekend, so we gave him nearly another week to get back to us.  On the following Wednesday I composed a nasty email and sent it to the our contact at the insurance company.  Before receiving this email, our contact sent us an email to inform us that they determined the truck was totaled and our case was being forwarded to a “Total Vehicle Specialist.”  I thanked him and now began patiently waiting for word from this “specialist”.  By Friday we still had not heard from this specialist and our agent had not yet let us know how to contact him, so another nasty email was sent which finally got the contact information for the specialist.  Another weekend went by and finally by the next Tuesday we got an initial estimate of the KBB value for our truck.  I had a number of questions about the estimate.  First, the estimate began with a KBB “base value” from which over $2000 was DEDUCTED for options.  I still don’t understand this as I had never heard of missing options being deducted from a base value.  I had always though options were an addition not a deduction.  Regardless, all I ever learned from our “specialist” is this is the way it is done and they have no control over it!!? He did review our options, which I guess he got from the VIN number since he never saw the truck, and credited us for the dual wheels which was missed initially.  He never could tell us what options we were missing, although I suspect it is mostly 4 wheel drive.  Next, we were being paid for sales tax, which was a complete surprise since I have no idea how we are suppose to pay sales tax.  He could not even explain what state gets paid the sales tax, Alabama, Wisconsin, or North Carolina.  All he could say was that “no reporting was necessary.”  Does this mean I am suppose to just keep the sales tax?  Since he can’t tell us what to do with it, I suppose we will just keep it as part of the value for the truck.  Next, was being charged our $500 deductible for the policy.  Since they did not fix the truck, I was surprised by this, but again all I got back from our “specialist” is this is the way it is done.  Finally, his base value was for a truck in “average” condition.  I argued that the truck was in at least “very good” condition and sent him my spreadsheet that details all the work that has been done to it since we bought the truck.  He accepted this and upgraded his estimate to “very good”.   We waited another week without a response to my questions before I sent another email to find out my response had gone to his “junk” mail and he never saw it!!  He did get back to us the next day, however, now our focus was to get our new truck and haul it Alabama so it was not until we had time in Birmingham that we sent in the title and received word that a check was in the mail.  I am still not sure why this insurance company has a “Total Vehicle Specialist”.  All he ever did for us was lose my email in his junk mail, enter the year, mileage, and options into a KBB program and send us the result, glance at a spreadsheet sent to him to upgrade the condition, and not know the answer to any of my questions about how KBB determines the value??  In my opinion, a new high school graduate could have done as much even without being a “specialist.”

Next was the situation with our RV.  We had to get it moved to a different site that had a sewer hookup before Labor Day Weekend.  As it turned out a long time seasonal camper had just vacated their site and after a couple of days leveling it out, it was available for us to use as long as we needed it.  However, the question was how to get the RV moved.  Obviously we did not have a truck and neither did Gregg.  It sent word out to his seasonal campers that might be coming for the Labor Day weekend but could not find anyone with a big enough truck.  It turns out that most of their seasonal campers do not even own a truck.  They pay someone to haul their RV onto their site and it just sits there for years!  In any case by Tuesday following the accident we had no way to move the RV by Thursday, as they had it booked for the weekend beginning on Friday.  So we contracted with Link’s RV out of Haywood to move it from one site to another.  I initially balked at the nearly $400 for this, but realized most of the cost was their travel time since it would take less than 30 minutes to move the RV.  They showed up on Wednesday and we got the RV moved and hooked up to the sewer so we could empty the tanks after over a week.  They were pretty full.  The other major advantage was that now we were under white pine trees instead of oak trees that were dropping their acorns sounding like gunshots throughout the campground.

Campsite2

Finally, the new truck itself.  As I mentioned previously, on the second day after the accident we went into Benna Ford in Superior to begin the process of finding a new truck.  We decided against the Lariat or King Ranch as the price tag was just ridiculous and all you got in addition to the options on an XLT was leather seats.  We discussed what we wanted in the truck, the main requirements being dual rear wheels, diesel, and back-up cameras.  Everything else was negotiable.  Of course, we had to settle for what they could find as we did not want to take the time to order a truck.  It took them into the middle of the next week to locate an F350 XLT that would work, but after a couple of days the could not come to terms with the other dealership.  So it was back searching for a truck which took until the following Monday before they located two trucks, either of which would have to be trailered in.  We did not really care which one as they both met our minimums.  It took until Thursday to get the truck brought in and we went into Benna Ford to purchase it.  It how now been two weeks since the accident, but we would have our truck.  We had just learned the day before that our old truck was totaled so we were clear to buy the new one.  However, when we showed up at the dealership we were given two pieces of bad news.  First, Alabama is the only state they are aware of that they could not title the truck themselves.  Alabama required all vehicles to be presented for inspection in order to be titled!  This meant they had to physically verify the VIN number of the vehicle.  For us, this meant we had to travel back to Alabama and come to find out we only had 20 days to do it!!  Our plans had certainly not included going back to Alabama again.  However, we should be able to make it within the time limit.  The second problem was that two days prior Ford had issued a Safety Recall on all trucks and SUV’s to fix a problem with the non-power seats which included our passenger seat.  Benna could not release the truck until this was fixed.  The problem was that the fix required a “special tool” which they would be a week obtaining from Ford.  They assured us that their mechanics were creating their own tool (I never found out what was so special about this tool) and should have it fixed by Monday.  Therefore, we decided to go ahead and do all the paperwork while we there on Thursday.

On Monday we found out they were not able to create their own tool and we would have to wait until Thursday, now three weeks after the accident.  It was actually the following Monday that we finally decided to drive into Benna and insist something be done since the clock was ticking.  Once we got to Benna, we found out that Luke had sent us an email that the truck was done and since Benna could not actually sell us the truck until it was done our paperwork had never been submitted, the clock had not started yet.   We made an appointment for Thursday morning to redo the paperwork restarting the 20 day countdown.  In addition, Luke had delivered our truck to Ron Repair and Towing to have the fifth wheel hitch and toolbox installed on Tuesday morning.  Ron got started immediately on the hitch, only to find out that the bracket that goes under the bed from the old truck would not fit the new truck.  He had to order the part and it would be Thursday afternoon before it could be delivered.  It has now been four weeks since the accident.  Once the new bracket and rails came in, Ron got to work on the truck and finished it by 7:00 that evening.  We will be forever grateful to Ron for all he did for us, but there was just no way we were going to drive to Washburn that night.  So first thing Friday morning, we finally got our new truck.  I would never had dreamed it would take four weeks to buy a new truck!!  We then had to drive all the way to Duluth to turn in the rental car.  Since we were close we also stopped in at Benna Ford to have them run down all the new features, which were a lot! On Saturday we packed everything back into the truck and got ready to finally leave Wisconsin.

NewTruck

While I will admit most of the five weeks we spent near Lake Superior in Wisconsin was staying in the campground waiting on things to happen, we did get out a few times.  Most of these trips included finding phone coverage so we could contact either the insurance company, Benna Ford, or to update Ron.  Three times we traveled to Bad River Lodge and Casino just east of Ashland to play the slot machines.  In total we came close to breaking even, with Kal winning a large jackpot on a couple of machines to make up for my terrible luck.  On the Saturday after purchasing the truck and finding out the old truck was totaled we spent the day at Amnicon Falls State Park which is just outside of Superior.  While there are an upper and lower falls on the Amnicon River as it descends into Lake Superior, they are really more a series of cascades, neither of the “falls” are more than 10 feet in height.  Still it is a very nice set of cascades as the river cuts through the red sandstone to the black basalt rock.  There are two very nice trails, one along the river and the other a nature trial with a nice set of interpretive signs.  We had a very pleasant day away from all the headaches.  We also spent a couple of afternoons and evenings having a couple of beers with Gregg and Kathleen, the owners of the campground.  Their “office” doubles as a bar where they serve beer and pizzas, primarily during gamedays.  We watched half of the opening Wisconsin game with a number of the seasonal campers having a party and watched the Auburn vs Texas A&M game the final Saturday before we left the next morning.  We also enjoyed the festivities in the campground over Labor Day.  They celebrate Halloween over Labor Day with all the children dressing up in costumes visiting selected RVs for Trick or Treat.  It was a lot of fun watching all the kids running around.  So it was not all just sitting around for a month, although we were not nearly as active as usual.

The date was now Sunday, September 22 and we were one day short of staying at the Top O’ The Morn campground for five weeks.  Even though the 20 day clock was started on September 19, we still had to get to Birmingham by the end of the month.  Kal had decided to wait until we got to Birmingham to renew our tags for the RV, which had to be done before the end of the month.  Consequently, we planned some long days to get to Birmingham by the end of the week.  On Sunday we drove all the way to Illinois to the Peal Lake Campground outside of South Beloit.  Even though the owner’s manual suggested driving the new truck for 1000 miles before hauling a trailer, this was simply not an option.  It took nearly 8 hours to get out of Wisconsin and a very long day.  Monday, Kal got the laundry done and I worked on making reservations for the rest of the week.  Mostly we rested up for the next day, since Tuesday was another long drive of nearly 7 hours to get to Paducah, Kentucky where we stayed at the Fern Lake Campground.  Neither of these campgrounds were our favorite being nothing more than parking lots with full hookups, however, they were close to the Interstate.  After resting up for a day in the campground we drove the final 6 hours to Birmingham to stay at the Birmingham South RV Park.  This was the same campground we stayed in last February as we took care of Kal father’s estate.  So we knew what to expect and it was close to both her brother and to the courthouse in Bessemer.

This quick trip got us into Birmingham on Thursday giving us Friday to head to the courthouse in Bessemer to renew the tags on the RV and title and tag the new truck.  We got there early on Friday morning and the line was real short, so we soon found out that we did not have a “title application” which was suppose to be provided by the dealership.  We went ahead and renewed the RV tags to eliminate this deadline.  We quickly called Benna Ford who got right on it, this time contacting Alabama to find out they needed to send us the Wisconsin title and the courthouse would fill out the title application.  In addition, it turned out that the bank would not accept the loan application since their printer misaligned the values on the form.  So they were sending a new set of forms to be signed again and sent back to them.  Although they overnighted the package, it was not until Monday before they arrived.  In the meantime, we took care of some lingering issues with Kal father’s estate and had a great dinner with Phil and his family on Sunday evening.  Thankfully, the package arrived mid-morning on Monday so we were able to get our hands on it and head back to the courthouse.  Of course, now it was the last day of the month and there was a substantial line at the courthouse.  The line moved reasonably well and within a half hour we were once again standing in front of the state clerk.  As I mentioned before, the entire reason we had to come to Alabama was so they could verify the VIN number.  As expected, a clerk went with us out to the truck.  However, after opening up the truck, he did not actually look at the VIN number since getting the number off of our insurance card was easier.  I could have hit him!  We had to come all the way to Alabama in a short amount of time so he could read the VIN off of the insurance card??  However, it was done.  I should also mention that since Benna Ford generally titles the vehicles themselves, they charge us for the title fee and ad valorem taxes.  Since they did not do this work, they did send us a refund in the package which did not cover the cost in Alabama.  My only complaint is this substantial fee became part of our loan which I would not have done if I had known about it.

We stayed in Birmingham for an entire week, suffering the sweltering 100 degree temperatures all week.  This after enjoying the 60s and 70s in northern Wisconsin for a month.  Talk about a shock to the system!!  In Wisconsin, fall had certainly started while we were there with the aspen, birch, and maple turning bright colors and the white pine dropping a bed of needles everywhere.  In Alabama, summer had not ended even though it should be in the 80s by the end of September.  For this and other reasons we were not happy with having to come back to Alabama.  Starting on Thursday, five weeks after the accident, we will finally be back to a more normal existence heading slowly west to Texas for the winter.  Only this time we will have a new truck with a 7 year, 150,000 mile extended warranty on just about everything!

August, 2019 – Ely, Minnesota

After two weeks at the Lake of the Woods, it was time to start the long trip south for the winter.  Our first stop was close to the Boundary Waters and Ely, Minnesota.  This meant traveling along the banks of the Rainy River as it flowed between Rainy Lake and Lake of the Woods with Canada on the other side of the river.  Once we got to International Falls it was time to turn south towards Virginia, Minnesota.  We will be returning to this area during the week as this was very close to Voyageurs National Park.  Just before we got to Virginia, we turned east to Vermilion Lake to our next stop at Fortune Bay Resort Casino RV Park.  We don’t often stay at RV Parks located next to casinos, but it was centrally located to the things we wanted to do in northeast Minnesota.  The RV Park is small and typical of RV Parks next to casinos.  That is to say, it closely resembled a parking lot for RVs and the only amenities are a bathroom and access to the casino.  We had just enough room between us and the other RVs for a picnic table.  There was not even enough room for a fire ring.  Instead they had a single communal fire pit at the end of the circle.  However, it was a pull-through site with 50 amp and water hookups.  TV reception was not too bad and the campground WiFi was pretty good.  So we were able to quickly get set up and settled in.

Campsite

On Tuesday we needed to get our prescriptions filled at Walgreens, so we headed into Virginia to get this taken care of and to go to the store.  Once we got back to the campsite we checked out the casino for the first time during the week.  We actually did very well at the casino coming away ahead by a few dollars.

Wednesday was to be our big day as we had made reservations for a boat tour in Voyageurs National Park at 10:00 in the morning.  Since the Rainy Lake Visitor Center was outside of International Falls, this meant an early start to the day since it was over an hour driving time.  We got there in plenty of time for the reservations and had enough time to check out the small Visitors Center.  Voyageurs National Park is a huge area encompassing over 200,000 acres, however, over 40% of it water.  It includes the American part of four major lakes, Rainy Lake – 60 miles long, Kabetogama Lake – 15 miles long, Namakan Lake – 16 miles long, and Sand Point Lake – 8 miles long.  Consequently, the best way to get at least an overview of the park, which you could not see in a day anyway, is by boat.  Our “Life on the Lake” tour was 2.5 hours long boat ride in Rainy Lake as it wound its way around the many islands in the lake, past some interesting historical features pointed out by our guide, and stopping for a short excursion at Harry Overson’s Fish Camp which has been restored by the NPS.  Our guide gave us a pretty good history lesson of the area which started out with the Indian tribes that have lived here since the last ice age.  European exploration began in the late 1600s and by the mid 1700s the beaver fur trade had moved west from the depleted areas around the Great Lakes.  The Voyageurs were the hardy souls that brought large canoes loaded with trade goods from the eastern markets of Montreal to the traders and Indians along the way picking up beaver and other furs every year.  The Voyageurs were actual the truckers of the day.  In fact, it was this trade route from the Great Lakes that defined the boundary between the US and Canada following the Revolutionary War.  Following the fur trade came the loggers as they also move east once the vast white pine forests of Michigan, Wisconsin, and central Minnesota were depleted.  Thus the entire park area was logged beginning in 1880s.  Of course, I was aware already of this history, but I was surprised to find out about the gold rush from 1893 to 1898.  In the summer of 1893, a vein of gold encrusted quartz was discovered on Little American Island at the west end of Rainy Lake near International Falls.  This single quartz vein is along a fault line that runs under Rainy Lake and is the origin of most of the islands in the lake.  Thus the gold was accessible only on the islands and a number of shallow mines were established.  However, the gold yield was too small to sustain the efforts and nobody made it rich and the all of the mines except for the one on Little American Island was abandoned.  The island is now part of the National Park and is suppose to have tours of the mine.  The scenery along the boat tour was spectacular with multiple eagle nests pointed out by the guide.  Kal even spotted a young bald eagle in a tree on one of the islands we passed close to and caused some excitement in the boat for a while.  After an hour and a half of slowly making our way we stopped for a short time at Harry Overson Fish Camp, which has been restored by the NPS.   This fish camp was a small camp operated by Harry Overson to supply white fish and walleye to the local resorts prior to the establishment of the National Park.  It was one of many small operations for this purpose following the big commercial fishing operations harvesting primarily lake sturgeon for the roe, ie fish eggs.  It was an interesting site, especially the large ice house which would be filled each winter with ice cut from the lake and used all summer long to pack the fish for transport.  The trip back was much faster as we returned within 20 minutes of leaving the fish camp.

After the boat tour we joined a ranger led walk through their planted garden next to the Visitor Center.  Here they are attempting to provide small examples of the many plants used by the native Indians for food, shelter, medicine, and transportation.  While the walk was interesting it focused on the use of the trees for canoes and shelter instead of the plants used for food and medicine.  I would have preferred more information about these uses of the plants.

We ate a late lunch and decided to check out some short hiking trails and overlooks on the way to the Ash River Visitor Center.  The first trail was suppose to be a forest overlook, however, it tuned out to be a mile loop trail that descended through the pine/birch forests to a black spruce bog and then back up climbing over numerous glacial rocks.  It was strenuous and pretty much defined our hiking limits for the day.  However, the next overlook was at an active beaver pond.  This trail turned out to be level and an easy walk to a nice overlook of the pond.  The final overlook was another short trail to a spot overlooking Rainy Lake.  Kal declined to make the trip, so I hiked the quarter mile to a very nice overlook of the lake.  By this point it was after 5:00 and the Ash River Visitor Center was closed.  So we used their bathroom and headed back to the campground.

On Thursday we were looking for something different and decided to check out the North American Bear Center at Ely.  We have visited other wildlife centers in the past and often come away with feeling we visited an overpriced zoo.  However, the North American Bear Center is a prime example of what a wildlife center should be.  They did have a small group of captive black bears that were rescued animals that could not be released that made for some nice pictures as they fed them peanuts.  However, the main attraction of the center was the information provided in the exhibits.  They did have a stuffed black bear, polar bear, and grizzly bear to attract the eye, but my main interest was the many videos and research results from over the years.  They took on one myth about black bears after another and dispelled nearly all of them!!  It was a truly fascinating presentation of scientific facts and studies from the past and current research projects.  I spent over two hours learning a lot about black bears!!  There was also a Northwoods Ecology Room with a little information about other mammals, fish, reptiles, and birds you find in the northwoods that deserves a mention as well.  This was a very fascinating place that I would visit again!

After our experience at the Bear Center, we decided to head back to Ely to check out the International Wolf Center hoping for the same kind of experience.  However, the Wolf Center was more in line with our previous experiences of wildlife centers.  The exhibits were geared towards young children and except for some interesting videos, was not very interesting.  They did have a good movie about the wolf research on Isle Royale and we saw an excellent presentation about this long term research project where the predatory-prey relationships is very simple between just two species, wolves and moose.  I would recommend this presentation, but I would skip the exhibits.  They also have a captive wolf “pack” consisting of four wolves.  They have a large area of windows to view their habitat and if the wolves decided to show themselves it can be fun for a few minutes to watch them sunning themselves on a rock next to the pool.  Once again, it had a very zoo like feel to it.  Consequently, we did not spend much time in the wolf center and decided to eat lunch at a local restaurant in Ely before heading back to the campsite.  We also returned with plenty of time to head over to the casino again, where we did not do nearly as well as before.

The weekend was very quiet as we just stayed in the campground relaxing and working on this blog.  We did visit the casino one last time where we are both convinced they tightened up the slot machines for the weekend crowd since we came close to losing our entire stake.  A most forgettable experience!

August, 2019 – Baudette, Minnesota

Once we got around Bemidji most of the trip north to Baudette was along MN 72.  This is a two lane road that runs alongside both Lower and Upper Red Lake for most of the way.  For a couple of hours we saw very little traffic and miles of black spruce bogs and no towns.  We were able to get to the small town of Waskish where there was a truck stop large enough to pull in for a break in the nearly 3 hour trip north.  From there it was still another hour to Baudette and our next stop at Lake of the Woods Campground.  While we were close to the Lake of the Woods, the campground is actually on the shore of Rainy River.  I expected to find a small campground with minimal amenities whose sole purpose was to provide fishermen access to the Lake of the Woods.  As we left the area around Minneapolis we expected the TV and phone reception to virtually disappear and were ready to spend a few weeks cut off.  However, we found the Lake of the Woods campground to be VERY nice with spacious pull-through sites for transient campers, full hookups, and even cable TV!  In addition, they had free WiFi that was okay, however, the phone reception was excellent so we had a great signal for our hotspot.  This was MUCH better then we had expected.  I will admit that we were one of the few campers that did not have a boat, however, the campground was full of families with kids, especially over the weekends.  It was a great atmosphere for the next two weeks.

Campsite

Since there were not laundry facilities at our last campground, we spent Tuesday doing laundry and cleaning the RV in anticipation of Nikki and Chris joining us on Saturday.

For the past several days, Kal had been fighting a cold that began as a sinus headache and developed into a cough that she was still dealing with.  I had also caught the cold from Kal and had a couple of days of severe headaches over the weekend.  While I did have a running nose as well, I never developed the cough that was causing so much concern for Kal.  Since we were expecting Nikki and Chris to join us on Saturday and Kal wanted desperately to go fishing the beginning of next week, she decided to have a doctor check her out.  We found the local hospital in Baudette and made an appointment at their clinic for the afternoon on Wednesday.  We drove back into Baudette in the afternoon and Kal was prescribed an antibiotic, an inhaler and steroids for the inflamation.  We spent the rest of the day just relaxing in the campground hoping Kal would improve over the next couple of days.

We took it easy again on Thursday since Kal was still coughing a great deal although the medicine, especially the inhaler, was helping.  She decided she was feeling good enough to drive over to Warroad to the Seven Clans Casino by mid-morning.  After a couple of hours in the casino, where neither of us did very well, we drove on into Warroad to a local bar and grill for lunch.  After a nice lunch we drove back to the campground for the afternoon.

We also spent Friday relaxing in the campground where I finally got all caught up on this blog.

Saturday was spent in the campground waiting for Nikki and Chris who arrived late in the afternoon.  After getting them set up, it was time to take advantage of the “Campers Appreciation Weekend” in the campground where they were serving margaritas, pulled pork barbecue,  baked beans, potato salad, and a wide selection of deserts.  We enjoyed the free food, but did not spend much time at the celebration as we had to get over to Chris’ grandparents who also live on Rainy River just a couple of miles away.  We had a delightful evening meeting some of his relatives and taking a ride in their pontoon boat on the Rainy River, before heading back to the campground for our first game of spades before going to bed.

Sunday was an early day as I had to drive Kal and Chris to meet up with Grandpa George for a day of fishing for Walleye.  Since there was only room for four in the boat and one of Chris’ uncles was going as well, this left Nikki and I on shore.  This was fine with both of us since neither of us really enjoy fishing and I can get seasick very easily.  So we headed back to the campground for most of the day which gave us a chance to really talk and I was very thankful we had the time.  I learned a lot more about her job at the Hi-Wire Brewery and how it has evolved as the brewery has grown.  Kal and Chris had a great time fishing until early afternoon.  While Kal caught the first Walleye, they had to throw it back as it was not big enough to keep.  This was the only fish she caught all day.  The others did not have much more luck coming away with only 6 fish they could keep.  Grandpa George quickly fileted the catch and we headed to a nearby bait store to get the fixings to fry them up.  As soon as we got back to the campsite, Chris pulled out their propane stove and immediately fried up the fish.  We all got a good snack and I found out I could enjoy Walleye.  Generally, neither Kal nor I care much for fish, but Walleye is a nice white fish with very little “fishy” flavor.  In fact, most of the flavor is from the breading itself.  After our snack we cleaned up the dishes and headed once again to Chris’ grandparents for a nice dinner of ham, potatoes, and salad.  Chris’s parents, Mike and Jane, joined us once they arrived from North Carolina.  After a nice evening with Chris’ family, we headed back to the campground.  Once again we were able to sneak in a game of spades before bedtime.

KalWithCatch

Monday was another early day as Kal and Chris were once again going fishing with Grandpa George.  This time they had room for one more, so Nikki went along as well.  This left to me all alone most of the day, which I spent going to the store in Baudette and just relaxing in the campground.  I was surprised they called early in the afternoon that they had enough fishing and when I picked them up I found out why.  None of them had gotten even a bite all day, even though the Walleye were enjoying the minnow snacks.  I understand they still had a great time, but Grandpa George was simple disgusted with their luck and came in early.  This was fine with us as this left us plenty of time to play spades.

GoingFishing

Tuesday was the day for the big party planned by Jane, which started with Nikki and Chris heading to Roseau to meet up with his other grandparents for breakfast.  The party was not until 2:00 in the afternoon and consisted of both sets of grandparents along with Chris’ aunts and uncles and even two relatives from Norway that were visiting the states.  We had a delightful afternoon getting to know everyone that included a nice pontoon boat trip up the Rainy River and a great meal of turkey, rolls, and salad.  Although it was late in the evening before the party broke up, we still managed to fit in another game of spades before heading to bed.

Wednesday was a sad day as we had to say goodbye to Nikki and Chris as they started back home to North Carolina by way of Chicago and Knoxville where they had the grand opening of a new tap room for the brewery.  After they left, Kal and I just relaxed in the campground for the remainder of the day.

By Thursday, Kal was feeling good enough to do some hiking so we headed to the shores of Lake of the Woods to Zippel Bay State Park.  I was looking forward to it, since I had yet to get a good view of the Lake of the Woods.  Instead of a 3+ mile hike through the woods, we decided to take the 1 mile hike (2 miles round trip) along the beach to the Coast Guard lights at the mouth of Zippel Bay.  I was surprised to see the long sandy beach as I had expected to see a rocky shoreline like you see on Lake Superior.  The trail began at the swimming beach and ran along the beach for the first half mile.  The Lake of the Woods was very calm with very little wind, so we were able to walk along the waterline which was much easier than walking in the loose sand.  The second half mile cut into the woods close to the shore so you still had good views of the lake.  Once we set for a while watching the fishing boats exit Zippel Bay, we turned around and hiked back to the truck.  We then drove to the marina on Zippel Bay which took us by the campgrounds that we were very nice if you had a tent or a short RV that did not need hookups.  At the marina we took another short trail of about a quarter mile that snaked through a mature aspen forest.  I was very glad to take this walk as being completely surrounded by white trunk trees as far as you can see was amazing.  The trail ended with another view of Zippel Bay.  Since we were only a few miles from the campground we decided to head back for lunch and spent the afternoon relaxing in the campground.

On Friday, we decided to spend another day at the Seven Clans Casino, so at around 10:00 we went to start the truck, only to find it was totally dead.  Turning the key did absolutely nothing and none of the interior lights were on.  The batteries were totally dead.  So we went up to the office to get some help and the owner grabbed some jumper cables and drove their big diesel to assist.  Along with my jumper cables, since both trucks had two batteries, we attempted to jump the truck with no luck.  So Jack, the owner, went and got two chargers, which we hooked to the batteries for about 20 minutes.  After this the truck started up and after thanking Jack, we head into Baudette to find a mechanic.  They really had only one repair shop in town, Johnson Auto.  Thankfully they were not too busy and were able to test the battery, from which it appeared the alternator was not functioning at all.  Thankfully, the local NAPA store had an alternator that would work for the truck in stock and they had time at the repair store to get right on it!!  So, we walked to lunch at Northlake Cafe just a few blocks away.  We had a leisurely lunch and even walked over to the nearby Visitor Information Center to find out about the International Plowing Contest later in the month.  We found out this was an international competition that is very big in Europe.  Competitors use tractors to plow a row in different types of fields and are judged on a number of factors that include straightness, depth consistencies, and at least 10 other factors.  Once we had bothered them enough, we walked on towards downtown Baudette and spent some time in a sportsmen store before heading back to the repair shop.  We got there just as they were finishing up and testing the new system, so by 3:00 in the afternoon, we had a new alternator and two new batteries.

In order to test out the new alternator, we decided on Saturday to drive to the Seven Clans Casino in Warroad to make sure we had no other problems with the truck.  The truck performed well and after a couple of hours in the casino, where we came close to breaking even (an improvement over the previous trip) we headed back to the campgrounds.  We were both feeling better that the truck was ready for the long haul on Monday.

Sunday was spent doing laundry and cleaning the RV again before we headed out on Monday.

July, 2019 – Federal Dam, Minnesota

Our trip north from St. Cloud was along US 10 and then MN 371 before we turned off on MN 84.  The first part of the trip was good straight roads and very scenic as we finally left the farmlands in the prairie and entered the Big Woods of northern Minnesota.  However, once we turned onto MN 84 the trip got a lot slower as the road wound between one small lake after another.  The terrain was still flat with lots of pine and spruce, however, it became obvious why Minnesota is known for its lakes.  After over an hour of slow moving with 25-30 mph turns, we finally got to the shores of Leech Lake Recreation Area, which is a COE campground.  We were reminded again why we prefer COE and state parks for camping as the sites were very spacious and full of trees.  However, this did pose its own challenges such as no water hookups.  We came prepared with full fresh water tanks, so this was no problem.  It also meant there were going to be trees in the way of backing the RV into its site.  The trees made the entry very narrow and my first attempt was too tight to the driver side.  There was no way to move the RV over with the limited room I had in front of the truck, so I had to pull out and try again.  The second attempt was perfect and I got the RV backed into the site with no problem.  At first I was disappointed in the campground as a whole.  It is on the shore of Leech Lake, however, you cannot even see the lake from the campgrounds as there is 1.5 miles of marsh between you and the open water.  I was also concerned that this was going to increase dramatically the mosquitoes, however, this proved not to be the case.  The other campers were complaining about the mosquitoes and they were bad if you spent a lot of time outdoors around a fire.  However, I did not find them to be too bad while we were there.  By the end of the week I had fallen in love with the site being surrounded by the spruce, red pine, basswood, and green ash trees.  After spending the past months in the hardwood forests, this was a great change.

Campsite

On Tuesday we headed west to Itasca State Park to explore a site that I had been looking forward to for years: The Headwaters of the Mississippi River.  At the time of the Revolutionary War it was believed that the Mississippi River flowed out of the Lake of the Woods to the north and thus was used to define the western boundary of the new nation.  However, the Mississippi River does not flow out of the Lake of the Woods and it was a long time before the actual beginning point was found.  In 1832, an Anishinabe guide led explorer Henry Schoolcraft to the true headwaters as it flowed out of a lake he called Itasca from Latin words meaning truth and head.  Actually, his discovery was off by a little bit as there is a small stream that connect Itasca with Elk Lake making it the true headwaters.   In any case, the small stream flowing out of Lake Itasca has been declared the headwaters of the mighty Mississippi River as it begins its 1200 mile trip to the Gulf of Mexico.  It is a common practice to wade in this stream, as evidenced by the large number of people doing just that, but we declined after taking numerous pictures of the event.  Instead we explored the Schoolcraft Trail that travels a mile down the west side of the lake to an overlook of Schoolcraft Island where he planted a flag declaring his discovery.

After our hike we continued on around Itasca Lake on the Wilderness Road to check out some of the virgin trees in the park.  Itasca State Park is the oldest state park in Minnesota since it was established in 1891 through the efforts of historian Jacob Brower who wanted to preserve the land for future generations from the timber companies that were clearcutting the area.  The results are that you can see some of the largest and oldest red and white pine in the state along with virgin forest habitat.  The park has continued to grow over the years to over 32,000 acres including over 100 lakes, much of which was cut.  For example, there is a short loop trail through a red pine plantation established by the CCC in 1932.  I attempted to take this trail, however, turned back when the deer flies became too bad.  This was unfortunate as there were interpretive signs along the trail about past and current forestry practices.  I did get far enough to get a sense of a mature second growth red pine plantation.  The highlights, however, was the largest white pine in the park which was 120 inches in circumference and over 300 years old.  They have erected a boardwalk to protect the roots, however, still the tree did not appear to be healthy and may not survive the next storm.  There was also a stop at an ancient bison kill located where prehistoric Indians killed a number of ancient giant bison.  Except for the interpretive sign at the location, there was not much to be seen today.  A short walk from there entered into the fringes of an old-growth red pine stand with some of the largest red pines I have ever seen.  For the most part, the stand still looked healthy, although none of the trees were state champions.  Once again the deer flies made the trip to and from the stand faster than I would have liked.  It was a great day in the Deep Woods of Minnesota and I can finally mark this off my bucket list of things to see.

Wednesday was another day when Kal gave in to my interests when we traveled east to Grand Rapids and the Forest History Center.  This is a Minnesota Historic Site that celebrates the history of forestry, especially forest industry, in the state.  They have a great museum with numerous exhibits about the lumber companies, loggers, and sawmills that drove the white pine boom from 1839 to around 1920.  The boom started along river, primarily the St. Croix and Rum Rivers, with logging during the winter and using the spring thaw to float the logs downstream to the sawmills which concentrated at Minneapolis.  Steam power was introduced in the 1870s which allowed sawmills to be located closer to the harvesting.  By the 1880s railroad spurs were being build to extend the reach away from the rivers and deep into the woods.  Logging peaked in 1905 when 2.3 billion board feet of lumber was extracted from the forests.  It was believed that this logging would open up the land for farming, but the frequent devastating fires and short growing season made this impractical on a large scale.  Slowly the forests reclaimed much of the land supplemented by massive plantings by the CCC in the 1930s.  Today the forests are still maturing, but there are vast acreages of commercial birch, aspen, and red pine that support a sustainable harvest at nearly the same level as the peak in 1905.  This history is told through a series of hands-on exhibits in the museum.  However, the highlight of the Forest History Center is the reconstructed logging camp.  They have built a logging camp as it would have looked at the turn of the century with barracks, store, mess hall, horse barn, blacksmith/carpenter, and outhouse.  There are three period actors that provide a tour of the camp as if you are new recruits that have made the two day trip from town in the dead of winter.   They introduce how the camp functions and your responsibilities in a very enjoyable presentation through each of the buildings.  The tour ends with a reading of a letter describing life in the camp along with music and a demonstration of how logs are loaded onto the sleigh with a team of horses.  The most interesting display was the two huge sleighs used to create and maintain the ice roads.  The first sleigh would dig ruts into the soil about 2 feet deep.  After the ground freezes, the second sleigh would deliver water the road to fill the ruts with ice to create 6 inch deep ruts for the sleighs to slide on.  They would load the sleighs with up to 20 tons of logs that could then be pulled by a team of only two horses along these roads!!  This is easily 10 times what you could haul on wagons with wheels.  This was one main reason harvesting was done in the winter.  The other main reason was to use the spring thaw to float all of these logs downstream to the sawmills creating huge log runs every spring.  This all ended in the 1890s with the use of railroads to transport the logs.  This was truly an amazing place and a lot of fun!  I also took a short hike through some examples of current forest practices that included pine, oak, and birch management practices.  Very interesting.

On Thursday, Kal had developed a head cold and was not feeling very well.  So we just took it easy around the campground and I worked some on this blog.  By Friday, she was still not felling very good, but felt good enough to travel to the White Oak Casino we had seen on the way to Grand Rapids on Wednesday.  We had a reasonably good time at the casino which started out as a bust.  About half way through our money, I finally hit a minor bonus on a slot machine that brought me to about even.  A couple of machines later I got really lucky hitting a bonus that just went crazy.  It was a set of free spins and the first one hit for $18.  Three spins later and it hit for another $40.  In total I ended up covering all of our losses and we ended the day a few dollars ahead.  While this is nothing to get too excited about, it still represents an unusual experience in a casino where we generally lose $20-$30.  Bottom line is that I ended up having a good time and Kal ended up feeling worse for the experience.

Kal’s cold was not getting better, so we just spent the weekend relaxing in the campground.

July, 2019 – St. Cloud, Minnesota

We decided to travel north to St. Cloud along state and US highways instead of taking the Interstates through Minneapolis to St. Cloud in order to avoid the heavy traffic and possible delays.  The 2.5 hour trip was going fine until about 30 miles south of St. Cloud.  The truck suddenly refused to go above 2500 rpm, which meant pulling the RV up the small hills dropped our speeds to about 40 mph.  It did not give us a “Check Engine” notice and seemed to be running fine otherwise, except a serious loss of power.  We continued to limp our way into St. Cloud until we got within 10 miles of our destination, St. Cloud Campgrounds.  The truck suddenly starting bucking, so we pulled into an empty parking lot at a TravelLodge, just north of I-49.  Our biggest fear about pulling an RV had occurred.  Thankfully, we were able to pull off the road into a parking lot so we were not stuck on the side of the road.  Kal called Good Sam’s Roadside Assistance to get some help.  After about 45 minutes they were able to find us a place that could look at the truck.  We also found out a limitation with this Roadside Assistance, which is designed specifically for RVs.  Since the RV was not in danger along the road, they would not pay for a tow.  The most they would do was to contact the TravelLodge to make sure it was alright to leave the RV in the parking lot while we dealt with the truck.  Since we pulled the RV out of the way in the back of the parking lot, they had no problem with leaving the RV where it was.  Since the truck was still running and the repair shop was less than 5 miles away, we did not think we needed a tow.  So we unhooked the RV and drove the truck to Miller GMC dealership in St. Cloud.  The truck ran fine the whole way there, although we did not push the rpms to see if we still had a problem.  Once we found the dealership, they told us they could look at the truck, but it would be in the morning before they could get to it.  However, they did have a loaner available, so we left the truck and took off to deal with the RV.  We drove the loaner to the campground to see if they knew anyone that could tow the RV for us.  They suggested an RV dealership that we had just passed with the rig south of Interstate 49.  So I called them to see if they could help.  They checked around and called me back to say they could not assist us, but recommended a towing service that would be able to.  They said to call “Andy.”  At first I figured this was a buddy of theirs and asked them “Andy who?”  Once I found out it was Andy’s Towing Service, I felt a lot better.  I called them up and 30 minutes later a pickup truck showed up with a goose neck.  It was a smaller truck then our own, but should be able to do the job.  He hooked up the RV and pulled out to the campground, which he was well familiar with since he lived there himself.  He got us into our pull-through site with no problem and we quickly got hooked up before driving back into town for dinner.  It is a good thing that we normally get to our next stop by 1-2 in the afternoon, as they gave us enough time to deal with the situation.

Campsite

On Tuesday, we waited around in the campground to hear back from Miller GMC.  I did get some work done on making reservations so we are booked through Labor Day.  They called early in the afternoon with the news that they could find nothing wrong.  There were no codes recorded for the past 3 months and the truck ran fine when they test drove it multiple times.  We were certainly not happy, however, what else could we do but go pick it up?  I suspected it had to do with the exhaust filter, which had given us problems in the past that were very similar.  In addition, the message that it was cleaning the exhaust filter just before we pulled into the TravelLodge seemed to support this theory.  They said the same message came up while they were test driving and it had finished the routine.  I asked them to manually tell the truck to clean the filter just to make sure and they said it would not do it since it had just completed the routine.  So we returned the loaner and got our truck and got a big surprise.  They did not charge us anything for the loaner or all the time they spent trying to find the problem.  WOW!!  It generally costs at least $75 to just get them to hook up the computer to diagnose a Check Engine code.  In any case, we had the truck back, although neither one of us trusted it.

Partly to check out the truck we left on Wednesday for Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge about 40 miles away.  We stopped first at their small Visitor Center at the refuge to get information about hiking trails and the driving tour.  The volunteer asked me if the flies were bad outside, but I had not noticed anything on the short walk into the building.  However, she recommended not taking either of the hiking trails near the Visitor Center since they had been reported to be very “buggy.”  Since there were a couple of short trails along the driving tour that would add to about 2 miles, we decided to take her advice and drove over to the driving tour.  This tour is a 7 mile loop road through an example of each of the habitats to be found on the refuge.  The location of the refuge is right along the border between the prairie of western Minnesota and the deep woods of northern Minnesota.  Therefore, it has prairie grasslands, oak savannas, and mixed hardwood forests in the uplands.  The lowlands ranges from sedge marshes to deep water lakes and all can be seen from the vehicle.  There is a short walk through an oak savanna at the beginning of the drive and we found out what they meant by “buggy”.  They were not too bad on the short walk through the oak grove, but our next stop which was a 0.4 mile hike through a prairie to a sedge marsh was a different story.  What I would call deer flies were relentless.  The bug spray did not seem to bother them a bit and they would bite if allowed to land for any length of time!   They drove us both crazy on this short walk.  We continued the drive around to a series of deep water marshes where we saw over 50 trumpeter swans, numerous cormorants, and Canadian geese.  By this time a breeze had come up and the flies were not a problem.  However, when we attempted the third hike through the mixed hardwoods, where the wind was blocked, soon descended into another deer fly banquet!  So ended our time at the wildlife refuge and we headed back to the campground for a late lunch.  However, on the way back, the truck acted up again, still with no Check Engine codes.  We were again limited to 2500 rpms which meant it was a slow trip the 10 miles back to Miller GMC.  This time we did not turn off the engine until they got it hooked up to their computer.  This time there was a code that indicated it was high pressure on the fuel pump.  Obviously it was intermittent and they could not get it to do it again.  They went to do a test drive while we grabbed our lunch and ate it in their nice air-conditioned waiting room.  If the pressure was too low, there would have been multiple things causing it.  However, being too high meant one of two things.  Either the sensor was malfunctioning or the high pressure valve.  Their recommendation would be to replace the sensor and drive it for a few days to see if this fixed the problem.  This would cost only a few hundred dollars and take about an hour.  However, we did not have a few days and on Monday we would be heading north into the backwoods of Minnesota.  However, to replace the valve meant the entire engine and car body had to be lifted off the chassis to access it.  This would cost over $1700.  We felt we had no choice and since we have saved the money to cover these expenses we told them to go for it.  So we made plans to return first thing in the morning and they assured us they could complete the work by Friday.

First thing Thursday morning was back to Miller GMC to drop the truck off again.  They gave us another loaner so it was soon back to the campsite to wait for their phone call.  I spent the afternoon working on getting caught up with this blog, however, the phone signal was not strong enough to upload images.  This greatly concerned me since I did not expect it to be any better as we continued on north.

Friday was also spent working on this blog while we awaited Miller GMC to give us a call.  By 1:30 I was getting concerned since we needed to know if we needed to extend our stay in St. Cloud.  I called them and found out they had completed the work and were out test driving the truck.  I had asked them if there was anything else that ought to be done since we had were going to pay for all the labor anyway.  They took me up on this idea and went ahead and replaced the entire high pressure fuel pump instead of just the valve.  They also found a fault generated when they test drove the truck checking the towing systems.  It seemed the sensor on the RV braking system would occasionally throw a fault on the RV brake system.  So we got this sensor replaced as well, especially since we had heard the fault system beep every once in a while when we are towing.  Hopefully this will fix this problem.  So by mid afternoon we picked up the truck costing just under $2500 in total.  It was too late to drive it much so we waited until Saturday.

Our plans for Saturday was to drive the truck primarily to see if any problems popped up.  So we decided to drive just over an hour north to Grand Casino on Mille Lacs.  We had a good time at the casino and managed to keep our losses low and then it was back to the campgrounds.  The truck drove great with no problems, so we hope the problem has been fixed without causing any additional issues.

We spent Sunday in the campground and I worked on the blog while Kal went and did laundry before we left on Monday.

July, 2019 – St. Peter, Minnesota

Although it is already the second week in July, we are finally making it into Minnesota where we will spend most of the next two months.  I was really looking forward to getting back into the northwoods with its white pine, sugar maple, spruce, aspen, and birch, however, this will have to wait another couple of weeks.  The southwestern part of Minnesota is a lot like Iowa in that it used to be prairie and now is mostly farmland.  The trip itself was easy as about half of it was along I-35 before turning west to Mankato and then north to St. Peter.  The last part of the trip was a surprise as we descended into the Minnesota River Valley in Manakto and traveled north along the river.  The Minnesota River was still in a minor flood stage and since the campground was close to the highway we were concerned there may be flooding issues.  Since Peaceful Valley Campgrounds is actually a mile from the river and up the first floodplain tier, this was not a problem.  We found the campgrounds with no problem and got checked in.  Peaceful Valley Campground is a small commercial park mostly filled with seasonal campers.  However, they have about a dozen sites for transient campers in the back of the park around a picnic shelter.  The sites are essentially in a grassy field, which could be a problem with heavy rains.  In fact, this had been the case for the previous camper in our site as there were some ruts in the site and they had torn up the entrance into the site.  The owners had put some straw down to help with the problem, but it was still pretty soft.  Since there was plenty of room in front of the truck, it only took a couple of shots to get the RV lined up and into the site.  The only problem was being in a valley.  The TV reception really only worked after dark and the phone reception was very weak.  However, the RV park more than made up for this deficiency with having the best WiFi service I have ever seen in a commercial park.  A rich dairy farmer up the road paid to have fiber optic run up the road and the owners of the campground invested into it as well.  Even with a problem with a damaged repeater we had the best service and it only got better over the weekend when they got a new repeater installed.  We actually streamed some news programs during the week and Skyped with William, Kristen, and Liam.   I wish we could take the wifi with us!!

Campsite

The forecast for Tuesday was for rain late in the afternoon, so we got an early start to check out the Traverse des Sioux State Historic Site in St. Peter, which was just a few miles away.  However, when we got there the museum was closed due to some local event so we were not able to find out much about the site.  There were some interpretive signs alone a short trail that led down to the Minnesota River.  As the name implies this location was near a long used ford of the river used by the Dakota Indians, also known as Sioux.   Since the river has changed over the years, the exact location is unknown, however, they have found evidence of the trading post that was suppose to be at this location.  We also learned this was the location where the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux was signed in 1851.  According to the treaty the Dakota Indians sold their claim to millions of acres in the Minnesota Territory that now includes Minnesota, northern Iowa, and eastern South Dakota.  This was in exchange for an annual annuity, food, and medicine.  The Dakota were restricted to a twenty-mile strip of land along the Minnesota River, which was not large enough to support their population.  In fact, Congress failed to authorize this land as an Indian Reservation when they ratified the treaty, so the Dakota Indians were eventually forced to move west.  Due to corruption in the Bureau of Indian Affairs and being cheated by the Indian Agents, the Dakota Indians received very little of the money and food was withheld since they could not pay for it!  For many years they tried to work with the Indian Agents to redress these wrongs, but by 1860 they were starving.  Finally, they had had enough and in August of 1862 fighting broke out which became known as the US-Dakota War.  After reading about this on the signs, we proceeded down the trail towards the Minnesota River.   However, as I pointed out before, the river was flooded so the trail soon turned to mud and mosquitoes, so we turned around.  Especially since the museum was closed for the day, it was still before lunch.  One of the signs gave a number of locations of conflict during the Dakota War, so we decided to head west to explore Fort Ridgely State Park.

By the time we got to Fort Ridgely State Park it was raining, much earlier then they had forecasted.  So we ate lunch in the truck at the site of the fort hoping the rain would quit.  After over an hour of a steady rain it finally started to let up and we decided to brave the conditions and walk around the remains of the fort.  They have rebuilt one of the stone barracks in the fort to be used as a musuem, but of course it was closed during the week.  This still left a walk around the ruins with a number of interpretive signs.  Fort Ridgely was the westernmost fort in Minnesota situated on a ridge above the Minnesota River.  The fort was located close to the Lower Sioux Agency where the fighting began on August 18, 1862, when the Indians were once again refused the food that had been withheld from them.  They were starving and felt that had little to lose by taking the food by force.  The Indians greatly outnumbered the 62 white men at the Agency and within a few hours 20 had been killed and 10 captured.  A few escaped, however, and word was gotten to Fort Ridgely.  As you can probably guess from the date, the fort was manned by Minnesota Volunteers as the regular army was away fighting in the Civil War.  In fact, the main purpose of the fort was to recruit and muster additional regiments for the Civil War.  In fact, at that time there were about 150 new volunteers in the fort to augment the 65 regulars, however they were poorly armed and completely untrained.  Captain Marsh led a detachment of 46 soldiers to check out the reports at Lower Sioux Agency.  Along the way they were repeatedly attacked by small groups of Indians and by late afternoon he had 11 men left.  Trying to return to the Fort, Captain Marsh drowned in the river due to a cramp, which left the Quartermaster, Lt. Sheehan, in charge.  On August 20, a force of 400 Indians attacked the fort.   Their main objective was to set fire to the fort, a strategy that had worked well during their raids, however, the stone buildings of the fort resisted their efforts.  After being driven back the Indians retreated back into the ravines to regroup.  The next day a thunderstorm delayed any further action and the men in the fort had an opportunity to shore up their defenses.  In particular, positioning and protecting the 6 cannons at the vulnerable locations.  On August 22, the Indians again attacked, this time with 800 Indians.  The first attack was repulsed and the battle devolved into a series of minor skirmishes throughout the day.  In the evening the Indians once again attacked the north side of the fort and Lt Sheehan ordered the buildings on that side to be set on fire to keep the Indians from using the cover of the buildings.  The Indians gave up their attack and melted back into the ravines.  The siege of the fort was broken the next day when reinforcements under Colonel Sibley arrived with 1400 trained recruits.  The Dakota war only lasted until September when a large force of Indians were defeated and captured at Wood Lake.  Of the 400 captured, 303 were quickly found guilty of murder and sentenced to be hung.  However, President Lincoln reduced the executions to 38 Indians who were hanged in December.  This was the largest mass execution in US history.  Today, very little remains of the fort as it was scavenged for building materials soon after it was closed in 1867.  Archeological excavations have uncovered the foundations of the buildings which have been left open to visit.  Along with the interpretive signs about each building you get a good feeling for the layout of the fort.  Once again without the museum being open, it did not take long to explore the site in the rain and we were soon on our way back to the campground.

The weather on Wednesday was once again for rain off and on all day, so we headed north near Minneapolis to the Mystic Lake Casino for some slots.  We had a nice time at the casino, managing not to lose much money, although neither of us came out ahead for the day.  We ate lunch at a close by Carvers and headed back to the campground for the afternoon under clear skies.

The weather on Thursday was perfect, even though the upper 80s is warmer then we like and the humidity reminded us of Alabama.  Over Kal’s objection, we headed back into Minneapolis to the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area.  This area spans 72 miles along the Mississippi River with none of it owned by the National Park Service.  Instead, it is a conglomerate of state, county, city, and private ownerships.  Obviously we would not be able to see all of it in one day, so we chose one of the two National Park Visitor Centers.  One of them is in downtown Minneapolis and the other in downtown St Paul, which is why Kal did not want to go.  We braved downtown Minneapolis to the St. Anthony Falls Visitor Center.  This very small visitor center is located at the upper locks on the Mississippi at St Anthony Falls which at about 20 feet drop forms the only natural falls on the Mississippi.  It also ended the commercial traffic on the river until locks were installed in 1948 and 1963.  In 2014, the upper locks were permanently closed due to lack of traffic since by this time it was obvious river traffic could not support it.  While the falls was the end of commercial traffic on the river, they were the reason Minneapolis became first the midwest leader in sawmills and then the world leader in flour production.  By 1871, the west bank had 23 businesses including flour mills, woolen mills, iron works, cotton mills, papermills, and other industries dependent on water power.  Along both banks were 34 flour mills using water to power the mills and railroads for transport.  Today these mills are all shut down and the historic district is well worth visiting.  However, we spent our time along the waterfront, first taking the tour of the upper lock conducted by the NPS where we learned the history and got some great pictures of the falls as they have been engineered today by the Corps of Engineers.  After the interesting tour we asked our guide for other things to do and he suggested checking out the Mill Ruins Park right there at the foot of the Stone Arch Bridge, which itself is pretty spectacular.  This large stone bridge was a railroad bridge that spanned the Mississippi River and today is a pedestrian walkway.  The Mill Ruins Park at the foot of the bridge is a small city park where you can see the outflow for some of the old mills on the west bank of the river.  To supply water to all the mills a canal was dug above the river with mills located on both sides of the canal and a railroad above the canal.  The water would run through the mills and then exit back into the Mississippi below the falls.  Some of these exit tunnels have been excavated and are now open to take a look into.  There are also some trestles of the railroads that ran along the backside of the mills above the river itself.  I assume there were also railroads behind the mills on the other side of the canal as well.  Once we finished exploring the park, we headed towards St. Paul in search of another popular location in the Recreation Area that was recommended by our guide, Minnehaha Park.  We found the park without a problem, however, finding a parking space anywhere in the park at noon time was impossible.  It was certainly one of the more popular areas we have visited with pedestrian and bicycles everywhere on a beautiful summer day.  We were also interested in visiting Fort Snelling State Park which controlled the west bank of the Mississippi River until it was opened up to settlers in the 1870s, however, it was closed due to flooding.  Wanting to get out of the traffic and congestion of Minneapolis-St. Paul we agreed to just call it a day and headed back to the campground for the afternoon.

Friday was going to be another sunny humid day so we headed out to the attraction that Kal wanted to visit on Thursday, Jeffers Petroglyphs State Historic Site.  The Jeffers Petroglyphs is an extensive outcropping of Sioux quartzite along the top of Red Rock Ridge.  The exposed surface is about 150 by 650 feet and is covered with ancient petroglyphs pecked out in the stone.  The earliest petroglyphs are estimated to be 7000 to 9000 years old that include atlatl and crude animal figures.  Other petroglyphs of thunderbirds, dragonflies, turtles, and shamans likely date back 3000 to 4000 years.  Finally, there are petroglyphs related to common symbols of the Mississippian culture of 1000 years ago.  There are over 4,000 American Indian symbols preserved in the rocks.  While not required, I would strongly recommend going with a tour guide.  They not only know where the more interesting symbols are on the rock face, but will wet them down with a spraybottle to make them easier to see.  You will also learn the Indian legends behind the symbols.  We started out with a Native American guide on a private tour that knew a lot of about the legends although she had just started working as a guide.  She was a delight, until we were chased off the ridgetop by an approaching thunderstorm.  We went back to the Visitor Center and ate lunch in their picnic area waiting for the storm to pass.  We never did get any rain, but the clouds and wind cooled it off considerably.  Instead of immediately joining the next tour we took the half mile walk through the restored prairie where we saw a lot of pretty prairie grass flowers and the remains of a bison rub which had been worn smooth by bison using the rocks to help remove their winter coat.  The end of the trail was back at the petroglyphs where we were able to join the tour and see the rest of the presentation.  Unfortunately, it was a different tour guide, but she still knew the legends behind the symbols she highlighted.  While the park is a bit remote, I would strongly recommend visiting.

After a busy week, we spent Saturday and Sunday in the campground doing laundry, cleaning the RV, and working on this blog.