August 31 Devils Lake ND to Bemidji MN

The rest of the photos for this day of travels are linked here.

DevilsLake (14) When I woke this morning, I knew I loved North Dakota even more than yesterday.  The skies had partially cleared and the sun was illuminating the park in a sea of iridescent green like a vision from a long forgotten fairy tale.  The park was still very nearly empty, with only four campers stretched out over the more than 100 sites on the east side campground.  After morning tea we unhooked the bikes for a very windy but exhilarating ride through the park, along the whitecapped lake, and around the west campground.

Have I mentioned the battery problems with the Tracker?  Sometimes, completely unexpectedly, the battery will be dead.  Totally silent kind of dead.  Since that first time back in Spokane, it has only happened when it is still hooked up, but is more of an annoyance than a really serious problem.  This morning it DevilsLake (1)was dead again, and Mo decided that maybe she wasn’t doing something wrong and she just needed a new battery.  We were in luck.  Checking the Road Atlas for a Wal-Mart showed one right in Devils Lake, just a block away from our already planned stop at the Exxon for propane.  Details.  However those details did slow down our travels a bit and after buying propane and a battery, we didn’t get out of Devils Lake until after 11am. 

It was to be an easy day, though, with only 200 miles to Bemidji, our planned destination.  The roads were clear and straight, with huge wide medians filled with green.  Have I mentioned green? And blue?  There is so much sky in this part of the world, and even when it is half covered by clouds there is so much blue.  In fact, seeing sky that goes brilliant blue all the way to the horizon in all directions is a treat that I was looking forward to and could only imagine.  I know the west is beautiful.  Westerners always have to make comments about this part of the country, “but it’s so FLAT”.  “I couldn’t live without the mountains.”  Well, I do love the mountains, and I love the west, but with mountains in the west come fires and haze and murky skies during much of the summer when it should be blue. Today was blue.  And green.  And white. It was an amazing day of brilliant color and sky. Yesterday I fell in love with North Dakota, and today I fell in love with Minnesota.

DevilsLake_to_Bemidji (6) Now my daughter will accuse me of being a soil nerd, but I also had a blast using the iPhone SoilWeb application developed by Toby O’Geen at UCDavis.  You just hit the screen, and in a minute your gps location finds the soil that is mapped there and a screen pops up with the soil profile, the description, and the classification.  The application is essentially using web soil survey, but it’s great fun to get it on the fly.  So when the phone tells me I am crossing a fine smectitic frigid Aquertic Argiudoll, I know by this name that the climate is fairly cold but not in summer, that the soil has wetness issues, that is has cracks in it from the fine clays, that the surface is deep and dark, and that it gets summer rain.  I am not sure if any other scientific classifications explain so much about the thing they are classifying. 

 DevilsLake_to_Bemidji (11) We stopped in at a visitor center just inside the state of Minnesota and while I continued to drive, Mo reviewed some of the possibilities for the next few days.  She started reading about the Itasca State Park, where you can walk across the Mississippi, and we couldn’t figure out just where it was, but she thought we needed to go there.  A conversation ensued about timing, and how we were going to make it to Niagara Falls if we kept wandering off to do other things than what was originally planned.  About that moment, a sign appeared, Itasca State Park, 21 miles south, and within a moment we made the decision to go there.  For me this is the best part of a road trip, that spontaneous moment when you just take the turn down the road, unplanned.

DevilsLake_to_Bemidji (26)Itasca State Park is where the headwaters of the Mississippi River emerge from the lake on their journey to the Gulf of Mexico.  The river is the third largest in the world, and it drains more than a third of the entire United States.  Here in the park, the river is just a riffle without a thought of what she will become.  The interpretive center had excellent maps and posters describing the area, the river, the history, and so much more.  There were campgrounds there, and initially we thought we might camp, but then decided that we could still get to the park in Bemidji by six or so and it would be a bit further down the road so we headed back north.

Garmin Girl has been silenced, but she still is giving directions that are usually very good.  Yesterday she tried to take us across some very wet dirt roads on the way to Devils Lake, but today she navigated the way to Bemidji State Park without a hitch.  This park is much more closed and shaded than Devils  Lake, but still isn’t crowded at all at the moment.   We were offered a pull through electric site and took it happily.  After a simple setup and pizza for supper in the convection oven we took off walking the Homestead Trail to the Rocky Point Overlook on Bemidji Lake.  The trails are extremely well maintained, wide and well planned, surrounded by deep, moist hardwood forest.  I do love the hardwood forests, and I am sure that before this trip is over I will have many more photos of sunlight backlighting the leaves through the shadows. 

DevilsLake_to_Bemidji (41) Once back at camp, I discovered to my amazement that here, in the middle of the forest, in Bemidji Minnesota, I have free internet access compliments of the Minnesota State Park System.  So while Mo built an evening campfire, I uploaded the last couple of days photos, and finished writing blog entries as well. 

Who knows when I will have access again, but for now, this is great.  The humidity is high, but not unbearable because it is cool.  The mosquitoes aren’t as big or prolific as I thought they might be, although we did put on some DEET for the first time since we left on this trip.  The night is quiet and still, with no rain in sight, no thunder to wake us.  Maybe a really good night of sleep awaits!

August 30 Dickinson to Devils Lake

Dickinson_to_DevilsLake (31) Dickinson_to_DevilsLake (27)
It’s a bit exciting to travel through North Dakota with tornado watches in our pathway! Best part of the day was a great visit with Laurie and Odel, full time RV’rs who have been on the road since 2003

Photos for this day of travels are here>

Dickinson_to_DevilsLake (3)The storm last night was a bit gentler than the night before and I slept well. When we woke, it was gray and foggy in Dickinson, but not raining.  I had been writing the night before, so took some time at the dingy laundry room to upload photos and post to the blog while Mo packed up the MoHo.  By 9 we were hooked up and on the road.  We hoped to be in Minot by 1, but the time change to central was a bit disconcerting.  I-94 was gray and dingy most of the way to Bismarck but somewhere before the town of Mandan, the fog began to rise and we had a great view of the Missouri River Valley from the Mandan Overlook.

Dickinson_to_DevilsLake (19) There is a very attractive and thoughtfully made marker at the rest stop, with bronze engraved plaques describing the natural  and human history of this area of North Dakota.  It stood in great contrast to the Alien Bar and Grill that we passed in Bismarck.  One incredibly tasteful, and the other unbelievably tasteless.

About 30 miles north of Bismarck is the very well done Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center.  The center is beautifully situated overlooking the Missouri River Valley with dramatic steel sculptures of bison silhouetted against the horizon and a nice bookstore and gift shop.  There is a 7.50 fee to view the exhibits, which includes a trip through Fort Mandan about two miles down the road and would take at least 90 minutes to complete.  We skipped that part, but I bought a great book by a native North Dakotan, Clay Straus Jenkinson.  “Message on the Wind, A Spiritual Odyssey on the Northern Plains” is a collection of his essays.  His style is somewhat like Terry Tempest Williams who writes in much the same way about about Utah and the Colorado Plateau, and is one of my favorite writers. 

Dickinson_to_DevilsLake (10) Late last night under the dark North Dakota sky, I read this passage: “Then came a few drops of hot rain, dust-spattering rain, and thunder and lightning as no member of our crew, perhaps including me, had ever witnessed: threshing, scouring, clashing, streaking, urgent, crashing, orgiastic, pounding, anarchic, punishing, apocalyptic, zigzagging, cross-hatched, grotesque, pandemonic lightning. And then, briefly, heavy rain, or rather sheets of water pretending to be rain.”  I felt that thunderstorm, and knew we hadn’t seen anything like it so far on this trip through the Dakotas. But I am coming to love North Dakota in a way I never imagined, crossing it’s wide open lonely roads, seeing the coulees and valleys, the badlands and the glacial moraines stretching out to forever.  Whoever said North Dakota was flat wasn’t really looking.  It is anything but flat, and so far anything but boring.  I have to come back to North Dakota and explore it more slowly, take in the Lakota culture expressed here so deeply, and the story of Lewis and Clark that bisects this land the same way it bisects my own land in the northwest.  But back to today.

As we continued north we passed extensive fields of wheat and sunflowers, interspersed with wetlands and small lakes of the kettle and kame landscape until we reached the more level valley near Minot and Highway 2. 

Dickinson_to_DevilsLake (25) I was so excited about meeting Laurie Brown and her husband Odel in person.  I have followed Laurie’s blog for a couple of years, we have connected now and then through comments to each other and through email, so this was a real treat.  They were camped in a very nice park west of Minot and the pull through space next to them was empty and waiting for our visit for just an hour, but what a delightful hour.  We shared conversation, and were treated to some of Laurie’s famous tea, and their hospitality was unsurpassable. Lucky us! Odel gave Mo some tips about the RV, while Laurie checked out our inverter, helped Mo figure out some of that complexity, and then gave me some tips about adding photos to my blog! 

Dickinson_to_DevilsLake (33) After leaving Minot and continuing east, the storms got heavier and darker, and when I had sporadic reception with my iPhone I managed to connect long enough to see the red bands moving northeast on the local radar and the tornado warnings on the weather site.  Laurie and I had just  discussed what to do in a case like this, so I asked Mo, “What county are we in”?  Where is there a shelter around here?”

We both looked around the landscape that consisted of very black clouds, an empty highway, and absolutely nothing else.  Hmmm.  Now and then I got an updated radar image, and new warnings, but no watches.  Mo held tight to the wheel and kept the MoHo on the road until things lightened up a bit when we neared our destination at Devils Lake.

Dickinson_to_DevilsLake (38) Finally arriving at Graham Island State Park by 6, the skies had cleared even more and the rain stopped altogether.  This state park is wide, open, and expansive, on an island surrounded by water. Devils Lake is the largest natural lake in North Dakota, and famous for its northern pike and walleye fishing.  The campground was almost completely empty, and even though it is only Monday, it still is the week before Labor Day!  We settled in to a pull-through site, and decided that any kind of outdoor activity would have to wait until morning when the winds and clouds would hopefully subside a bit. 


August 29 Visiting Killdeer

The rest of the photos for this day of travel are here.

FortPeck_to_Dickinson (107) Yesterday the skies were gorgeous, but after a wild night of lightning, thunder, and rainstorms, the morning dawned gray and quiet.  I had planned to do laundry early, but the cool rain made sleeping perfect, and when I rose, it was daylight.  Camp on the Heart advertises free Wi-Fi, but it is only available very close to the office.  I packed up the dirty clothes and the computer and headed for the laundry room.  There the Wi-Fi worked reasonably well and I finally uploaded our photos to Picasa and managed to write a bit more about our travels.  Even though we felt crowded last night, today most everyone left and we had the entire row to ourselves.  Sunday calls for a good breakfast, so Mo made bacon and I poached eggs while we made good use of the excellent cable service to watch some of Mo’s favorite Sunday news programs.

Kildeer_Dickinson Chores completed, we headed north to Killdeer a little before noon, although we still aren’t sure if this place is in Mountain Time or Central Time because my phone keeps switching.  The trip north was uneventful and a bit dreary with the low gray skies.  Once in Killdeer, Mo drove around searching for old home sites and remembering some of the family stories associated with her birthplace.  Mo was born in Killdeer, but her family left when she was three or so and moved to Oregon.  She came back often later in life because her parents returned to their roots here in Killdeer after they retired.  I looked around the very small quiet town, imagined the winters of North Dakota, and wondered aloud just why they felt they wanted to return.  Did they still have family here? Did they miss these wide open skies and low rolling landscapes? 

Kildeer_Dickinson (5) Mo pointed out the building that once housed her uncle’s sweet shop, and the home where her father’s parents lived when he met her mother.  We had no clue how to find the Oakdale Cemetery, with no address Garmin Girl was useless, and of course the phone had No Service.  Being Sunday, everything was closed up tight, even the police station.  I finally found a mechanic working in his shop on a back street and hopped out to ask him where the cemetery was located.  In true North Dakota fashion, he said, “Well, it’s about 4 miles north on 22.  I think there is a sign there, but I’m not sure.  Let’s see…it’s past the Robert’s place, I think. Been there a lot, but can’t remember how I get there.  You turn west, and go a ways.”  I wish I could put that accent in writing because it was classic.  Solid and true high north country man. 

Kildeer_Dickinson (8) We traveled north, and yes, there was a sign, so we went “a ways” and actually found the old cemetery.  Mo thinks there was a small community there at one time, but no more.  We tramped through the grass and weeds until we found her grandparents and their baby son, the Ross family, a common name in “these parts’”.  By the time we drove back south through Killdeer it was after 3, or 2, depending on which time zone we accepted.  The line goes through here somewhere, but by tomorrow we will definitely be in Central Time on our way to Minot.

On the way home we stopped in at the big WalMart Supercenter to pick up some milk, some bolts, and some wine.  I couldn’t find wine anywhere, and when I asked, I was met with appalled stares and aghast comments.  It was as if I were asking for drugs!  People informed me quite vehemently that of course they didn’t have wine or beer in the store, you had to buy it at the liquor store!  Well, I know it’s not California, but at least in most states one can usually buy a bottle of wine somewhere other than a liquor store. For supper we opened the one good bottle of Pinot Noir we brought with us.  We can’t take wine into Canada anyway, and what better time than a stormy evening in Dickinson to have some very good Pinot Noir!

Kildeer_Dickinson (15) Back in camp, Mo put the Montana and North Dakota state decals on our map and we commiserated about how big the South Dakota hole looked.  Although South Dakota is just 70 miles from here, we decided that unhooking the MoHo and driving it for several hours just to bag a state was dumb.  We knew we couldn’t drive the baby car there and legally claim the state, and I think that maybe just driving through the state doesn’t count either, so we decided instead to hang home, play with the animals, have a nice dinner and RELAX!  ahhhh.

After supper I again went down to the laundry room to hang out with the internet and post photos, write a bit, and catch up with my emails to family and comments to friends. My truck driving daughter told me about Points Of Interest that I can locate for my Garmin that will include all the things I am missing like campgrounds, rest areas, and cemeteries.  She also said that this part of the country is well known for sporadic to almost non-existent internet and wireless access.  So it isn’t just my ATT iPhone, but her Verizon didn’t work here either.  Good to know. The skies cleared up in the afternoon, but by evening the clouds were forming again, and now as I write late at night, it is storming.  I love hearing the thunder, watching the lightning and listening to the wind.

The plan tomorrow is to travel north to Devil’s Lake and Graham Island State Park by way of Minot, where I hope to meet some rv’ing friends for a short hello.  Looking forward to another State Park, which much of the time seems to fit our style of traveling.  I love the openness, the trails, and the dark nights of these parks.  I know state parks differ from state to state so it will be interesting to see how North Dakota does in this regard.