I’m in Wisconsin

It is stormy and green here in the cheese state, but gorgeous.

Since my last post, I spent a peaceful night by the lake at Split Rock Creek State Campground just east of the Minnesota border – the best site for a night in Ramsey ever.

About 15 minutes up the road, I toured Pipestone National Monument, where American Indians have mined the red stone used for peace pipes for as long as their oral tradition remembers. The red stone is thought to contain the blood of their ancestors, hence a very spiritual stone.

This reproduction of a painting by George Caitlin shows the mines in the middle of the prairie in the mid 1800s.

Then I dashed through corn field after corn field to St Paul on the other side of Minnesota to visit my third-cousin-once-removed, Leila. She turns 94 this Thursday. I spent two nights in a real bed.

On Saturday, we toured Grand Hill, where her side of our family lived for four generations, and where my paternal grandmother spent her childhood. The current owner of 501 Grand let us look around.

This morning, more of my third cousins gathered for breakfast. Here are four generations of Ameses.

Next destination, Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio. I must drive through Illinois and Indiana first. I’m due in Vermont for the wedding festivities for my niece on Friday.

Wind Cave and Badlands National Parks

I’m on the 10th day of my 6-wk Swing Around the USA, which I should probably rename “Zoom Around the USA.” On travel days, I’m driving between 215 and 297 miles a day, not counting the first leg from Pasadena to Zion, which was 433 miles. I’m paying between $2.77 and $3.59/gal for gas depending on how remote I am. I thought I would boondock more, but so far I’ve had only one free night. The free view over the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument was amazing, but I wasn’t very comfortable with the isolation. Feeling less brave, I look first for state park campgrounds, which are gorgeous and inexpensive ($12 to $24 so far), then RV Parks ($33 to $45). I’ve only had to dump my tanks once. I prefer my own coffee to anything I can buy out and eat lots of fruit and granola for breakfast. In order to eat plenty of veggies, I cook most of my dinners. Cooking and eating outdoors is a nice thing to do at the end of a day of driving and sightseeing.

Yesterday I started with Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota. It offers two highlights: The “Park” itself is a calming, preserved prairie complete with buffalo and prairie dogs.

Under the park, like a subway maze, is one of the world’s most complicated and extensive natural caves. The native Americans thought it was the Source, where buffalo came from. 436 miles have been explored so far by daring people who like crawling through dark, tiny spaces. In the 1800s, all they had were candles to guide them in, and string to lead them out. It’s thought only 20% of the network has been seen so far.

Though I overcame my fear of heights to drive the 12000-foot-high trail over Rocky Mountain NP, my even worse claustrophobia and the excuse not to leave Annie in the car too long (there was an hour wait for the Cave tour and the tour itself takes an hour) led me to the 20-minute movie in the visitor center auditorium.

To get from Wind Cave NP to Badlands NP, also in South Dakota, I wiggled through the pine-covered Black Hills in Custer State Park.

Like every National Park I have seen so far, Badlands offers sights you can’t see anywhere else in the world. The 45-mile drive through the canyons of its white mountains kept me saying “WOW”.

At the end of the drive is a campground but off limits to rigs over 18 feet. Ramsey is 20.5 feet. However, not much farther down the road is a tourist spot I’m glad I didn’t miss. The little town of Wall has two RV Resorts. The reviews on the app AllStays, which I frequently use to find places to park, praised Sleepy Hollow RV Resort, which is where we are now.

It’s very nice and friendly, and only a short walk away from the real highlight of this town, Walls Drugs, a super touristy mall of shops offering everything from cowboy boots to ice cream to BBQ beef sandwiches to silver decorate rifles.

I now have two days to get to St. Paul, Minnesota. My National Parks map says that Pipestone National Monument is about halfway.

Wyoming and Nebraska

I made it through the Mohave Desert without melting and toured Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capital Reef, Arches, and Rocky Mountain National Parks with my jaw dropped in awe — snapping photos all the way. I then downloaded the pix to my computer. But none of the gorgeous campgrounds have wifi that allows for me to upload the pix from my computer to this blog, so I’ll recap those days with videos when I get home. Here’s one of Bryce that escaped the download.

And this one of Ramsey my second night. I boondocked overlooking the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. Boy, was that sunset spectacular!

Today I visited Fort Laramie (the covered wagon) and the (in most cases cast copies of) 19-million-year-old bones of Miocene period animals on display at Agate Fossil National Monument in Nebraska, from where the bones were excavated.

The drives between each destination have been equally exciting. Even these vast expanses of prairie.

Now Ramsey is hooked up at campsite number 67 at Fort Robinson State Park near Crawford Nebraska amidst a gaggle of vintage camper trailers owned by Sisters on the Fly. (12000 women members who meet up for fun events all around the country. Eighty will be here this week. I took a tour of their cute, theme-decorated trailers. Check them out on YouTube if you have never heard of them.) My silver spaceship seems quite plain in comparison.

On to Wind Cave and Badlands National Parks tomorrow. I’m due in St Paul MN Friday night.

Back to rambling. …….

Revised Route for my USA Swing

2018 Swing around the USA Map

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, one of my goals for purchasing Ramsey was/is to see all the National Parks within the contiguous United States before I turn 76. I reached the goal of visiting all the California NPs within the first year – not counting the Channel Islands, which I had already visited. Nine years to go. I added the locations of the National Parks to my initial draft of the route for my upcoming swing around the country and made a few alterations. I only have nine days to get from Pasadena to St. Paul, Minnesota. There are a lot of National Parks on the way. Doubt I’ll make it to all of them.

Death Valley, not a great place for an old dog.

A trip I intended to last five days turned into a three-day dash to, through, and from Death Valley. Annie, my fourteen-year-old corgi, did not do well in the heat, which is why I cut the trip short. It was still an amazing get-out-to-see-my-country experience. Here’s the vlog.

And here’s the route.

RouteToDeathValley

Boondocking at Viaggio Winery in Lodi – My First Harvest Hosts Experience

I just took a four-day trip to Yosemite and the California Gold Country. I needed a place to stay on the way to Mariposa, where I wanted to see the California State Mining and Mineral Museum. There are a lot of wineries in the Central Valley between San Rafael and Mariposa. Having heard about Harvest Hosts, I signed up and was able to boondock for free in the parking lot of the Viaggio Estate Winery in Lodi. There are six wineries around Lodi that participate in the Harvest Hosts Program. I describe it all in this YouTube video. Enjoy.