Incredible Landscapes of Nature: Grand Teton and Craters of the Moon

Just when we thought the incredible sights nature had to offer couldn’t be topped we arrived in Grand Teton National Park and were wowed by the amazing mountain views.  We took a day for a pit stop in Idaho Falls so Izzy could have a spa day.  The day after we hit Craters of the Moon Nation Monument.  We are in awe of all the different landscapes created by nature!

Lewis lake to craters of the moon

June 19 – Grand Teton

Bundled under all our layers, we hesitated to arise from our slumber into the cold morning. It was not a day for the shorts, tees and flip flops we’ve been normally adorning. It was a day for sweats, boots and a toque. We didn’t waste much time with breakfast and coffee but rather jammed away our things and fired up Izzy with a thick blue smoke show hovering through the icy cold mountain air. It had been days since we’d had cell service and that didn’t appear to be changing anytime soon though. We were anxiously awaiting a reply from Idaho Falls for our service request on Izzy. The highway between Yellowstone and Grand Teton was short and desolate other than one resort, Flagg Ranch, where we stopped in to the info center for maps, brochures and our obligatory park stamp. Fo-fooing the restaurant’s breakfast buffet and minimal breakfast options we decided to wrestle up some oatmeal and coffee of our own brand in the lot before heading back out on to the highway. We reached the gates to Grand Teton National Park, we were a little too quick for the turnoff and missed the obligatory selfie with the park sign. By the time we had reached the Colter Bay Visitors Center, where we of course got our necessary park stamp, the rain had let up and some long awaited sunshine began to peer out from behind the clouds. The ranger at the tourist center gave us a well laid out path for a single day stay in the park which paired well with our timeline and made the most of a north to south route through the area. Not really having done any research on the park, we were amazed with the natural topography giving us views of the snow capped mountains from the highway along the wide valley floor. The first of the few scenic suggestions was Oxbow Bend Turnout.

It was quite a nice scene even with the still dense clouds hanging over head and we made the most of the cameras before continuing to North Jenny Lake Junction. The light rain continued on and off some but our sheer determination to get out and do a trail hike appeared to whisk the clouds away and made for some remarkable photos as we walked along String Lake taking in the reflections of the mountains in the lake at the base of the Tetons.

IMG_9577_fix After our walk we rumbled along the valley highway peering up at the peaks every chance we had to hit up two more visitors centers in an attempt to collect all the Grand Teton stamps, Gotta Catch Em All! The eastern part of the loop road was a small back track for us as we turned back north for a few miles but we were assured that the views were well worth the trip so we couldn’t resist. Though the specific lookout we were aiming for was closed for construction, we found ourselves a more interesting looking switchback, pot hole riddled, dirt path to follow down to the valley floor along the river at Schwabacher landing. There were a few raised eyebrows as our rig bounced down the narrow path but the reward was worth the risk as we were gifted a breathtaking view of the peaks rising up from the mountain stream and river grasses before us.

As the hours grew on we decided it was time to head out and waved the beautiful park goodbye, even with the mixed weather it was easily the most gorgeous park we’ve visited yet. The highway out had a similar tone and beauty to it as we twisted our way to the skiing hot bed of Jackson. We stopped for some much needed diesel and headed straight to NAPA auto to investigate the battery issue once and for all. Not having more than a few hours of power for the last week has been an excruciatingly, frustrating problem we’ve been unable to diagnose without a service center or cell reception. Bottom line is that we prepared to drop stack on new batteries and needed a load test performed to verify our electrical intuition. Once we had unhooked the batteries the NAPA guys ran the test and it came up with 30 CCA, a meaningless stat till you read the sticker claiming 800 CCA on the batteries. It was proof enough that our hypothesis was correct and we dropped $250 on a new set of lungs for our electrical system  It was a hefty sum but kicking that gremlin off the bus was priceless. Not only did we now have lighting for days, but it also solved our generator not starting problem!! Two birds!! Being warned warned against HWY 22 due to 10% grade both up and down, we took the 26 out of Jackson and found ourselves a budget friendly campsite with power for the night just below a dam on the Snake River. Later that evening the rain caught up to us so we battened down the hatches and stoked the heater for a night studying the maps over a warm cup of steaming tea.

June 20 – Idaho Falls

We arose toasty warm and brewed a pot of morning joe for the road. We were heading for civilization today and Izzy was booked in for a fluid and filter changin’. On route to Idaho Falls we pulled in to a scenic lookout admiring the Snake River as we’d been doing for days but this time from a ridge line up above the state stretching river flowing through the canyon below. It was a beautiful spot and we couldn’t resist the temptation to send out the drone on a little recon mission to get a closer view.

50 more miles and a few circlings of the block later we arrived at “All Things Automotive and Diesel” around 1:30, to drop Izzy off for her spa day. Unsure of our plans while our home was occupied with workers, we asked about a park nearby where we could pass the hours and catch up on some work while the cat could sprawl in some grass. The lovely people at the shop offered us their courtesy car to use, and supplied us with directions to Russ Freeman Park about 5 miles from mechanic. It was a nice big park and a beautiful sunny day to be there. Monty enjoyed roaming around while we chilled out in the shade.IMG_1150_fix It turned out to be a full day at the park as the shop needed some extra time with Izzy’s aging quirks but that was cool as we were in no rush. There was a Thai spot nearby that supplied us with a late lunch before finally getting the RV back around 5 with new oil, oil filter, fuel filter, and right blinker (been out for awhile just procrastinated fixing it). With Izzy stocked up with new essentials we needed to do the same with ourselves so we headed to Walmart for groceries and a mattress topper to bring our foam up to 6”. Back on the highway another 15min brought us to our hideaway for the night at North Bingham County Park. We were in desperate need of a wash after our adventures in the parks and this was full hookup with showers for $25, a total bargain!! We snacked for dinner and then made up an avo, peanut butter fruit wrap for dessert. Yes, that’s a real thing and it was fantastic!!

June 21 – Craters of the Moon

Maxing out the facilities at our disposal, we did a septic dump on our way out of the park and headed onwards and west toward Craters of the Moon National Monument. The drive was incredibly windy through the open country side and our box was being blown around like a rag doll. Flanked by mountains on our right and flat lands with Butte formations on our left, we met the wind head on and powered ourselves to Craters of the Moon in unremarkable time. IMG_1177_fixWe munched some lunch wobbling around in the wind swept driveway before getting a move on into the visitor center to formulate a plan. We captured our stamp and sticker, the first of the Pacific Westcoast section of our passport. The park consisted of a 7 mile loop drive with multiple stops and short walks throughout. We started at the North Crater Flow which had a short walk path through an ancient lava field and a lookout over top spanning the view for miles. Devils Orchard Nature Trail, a 0.5 mile loop walk was the second adventure where we strolled through a forest of gnarly trees and small foliage splattered with lava boulders spewed from the last eruption thousands of years ago.

We checked out two small splatter cones down the road a little which were encircled with a corkscrewing boardwalk up to the top to look into the lifeless spires from the top. The view was cool but we expelled most of our energy attempting to not get blown off the top in the wind squall. Our final stop on the loop was a hike for sure as we followed the pathway out across the lava field to Indian Cave, a partially collapsed pocket of air formed when the flow originally occurred. The cave was more of a tunnel with roof top openings allowing us to journey through without torches as the sun cast in from above. It was an easy tunnel to explore though we did have to maneuver over a boulder mound and up a cavity to ultimately escape. The return walk felt endless as were were feeling tired and windswept, however we tramped on across and over the lava flows to return to Izzy.

We left the windy wasteland and headed toward a free campsite about 40 min away we found online. The free boondock was a ways down a washboard dirt road and through a tight scrubby trail before ending up along side Silver Creek. There was only one other camper in our area and plenty of room of us. The place was well set up with two large gazebos and impeccably hand crafted steel plate fire pits with adjustable grills. We spoke with the neighbor who had made the trip from Utah to this Idaho nowhere which apparently turned out to be a world renown trout fishing river and we had it all to ourselves… There was a berm along the windward side of the site supplying a partial wind block but we were sure to lower Izzy’s stabilizers and enjoyed a rockless dinner of Huevos Rancheros and relaxed with the peacefulness of the creek for the night.

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Yellowstone National Park

Our route to Yellowstone took us over some of the highest mountain passes of our trip.  While spectacular in views we also took them spectacularly slowly! Yellowstone was incredible to behold in spite of chilly, rainy weather.  We made the most of our time there and would love to return one day, ideally, with more time, better weather and less people!

Moorecroft to yellowstone

June 16 – Big Horn National Forest
Saying we awoke early would be an understatement to say the least. We more gave up on trying to sleep through the semi-truck noise and highway traffic. It was also a dreary, rainy day and without solar our batteries let us down once again. Strangely the generator would not ignite either, it was cranking but not starting, another puzzle to figure out. After a little trouble shooting and not really getting anywhere we back tracked slightly to pick up the cheapest fuel for miles at $3.12/gal when all others on the radar were $3.35! We drove down HWY 90 until we hit the town of Buffalo. We had been discussing taking the 16 to Yellowstone and the highway signs claiming “least grade” and “scenic route” convinced us to do so. We topped off the gas tank in Buffalo since we weren’t sure where the next fuel stop would be but shortly after we left Buffalo we started to climb and climb and climb. The signs mentioning the “least grade” felt like a blatant lie! Also Izzy didn’t seem to be providing much power, making us think we had some bad fuel from our last fill up 😦 We didn’t have much choice but to keep climbing upwards through a dense shroud of fog. Finally, we broke through the cloud cover into the sunshine just in time for a scenic lookout and a lunch break. We were totally unprepared to be greeted by such an incredible view of the snow capped mountains. No wonder there was such a climb! We were in the middle of Big Horn National Forest on Cloud Peak Skyway. IMG_0754_fixWe climbed over hills and down again on a very windy road popping in and out of the clouds. Overall, the weather maintained it’s beautiful sunshine as we hit the max elevation of 9,677ft and descended again although the grade was less steep going down this side than up the other. As we approached an enormous double switch back we noticed Izzy’s brakes were smelling a little warm, so we pulled off at a look out spot just before the switch back the let her cool her heels while Beau did a little droning. The views throughout the mountains were incredible with all sorts of different rock formations and massive canyon walls. Once we braved the mighty switchback, conquering it at a snail’s pace with the ease only a 13000+ lb rig could manage, we reached the bottom of the switchback and a rushing river with a turnoff along side.

We headed down the gravel road and had a brief stop at a campground to capture some photos of the river as well as some overhead shots too. As we waved goodbye to the mountains, watching them disappear in our rearview camera, we entered into a very different landscape. It was rolling desert like hills with many inactive oil pumps dotted throughout. It felt very wild west. We drove through several small towns along the way and soon after the rolling desert hills gave way to flat farm land. We stopped in the small town of Basin, WY at a free camp spot for the night. The site was basically a gravel parking lot next to a neatly mowed grassy area but it was along a swiftly rushing river with a great shot of the mountains in the distance behind it. The daylight was still young so we took the opportunity to work on Izzy’s headlights which had shaken loose, check the air filter and secure some other loose pieces that had been flopping around. Feeling the kinks ourselves we also took the opportunity to do some yoga and stretching in the sunshine to combat all the sitting from the last few days. Monty of course took himself for a walkabout into the bushes and around the perimeter. We completed our evening with dinner and some more computer work while being serenaded by a strange bird at the neighbouring house. We could swear it sounded like a peacock, but why would there be peacocks in Wyomming?

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June 17 – Yellowstone
The next morning after getting packed up and preparing to hit the road, we looked over towards the neighbours house and low and behold there was a peacock chilling on a bail of hay! Maybe we’re not going crazy after all… We headed into the town of Cody about an hour away with high hopes of WIFI and Starbucks coffee, however, our hopes were dashed after we had ordered our Americanos when the WIFI wouldn’t connect us to the internet. Let down, we didn’t linger and took our coffees on the road along with some cake loaf we had snagged from the grocery store. IMG_0812_fix We detoured for a brief stop at an Autozone, singing the jingle “Get in the zone! Autozone!” the entire 5 minute ride there, to pick up a spark plug for the generator in hopes this would solve our generator issues. From Cody it was a short one hour drive to the east entrance of Yellowstone National Park, although, we were sidetracked for a half hour by a massive waterfall and took some time to check out the Buffalo Bill Dam a stones throw from Cody. They had a well maintained and informative visitors center and with the spillway open the water flowing out of the dam was immense! Back on the road, we ended up at Yellowstone’s east entrance after driving through the Shoshone National Forest. We stopped for the tourist photo with the entrance sign then continued into the park with all it’s, ups, downs, lefts and rights.

It was an unsurprisingly hilly and twisty road with us summiting at Sylvan Pass and 8530ft. We stopped for numerous photos of the scenery, waterfalls, and some thermal areas along the way. We arrived at the Fishing Bridge Visitor’s Center where we had a very late lunch and collected our stamp and the Yellowstone park sticker. From Fishing Bridge we headed north towards Canyon Village, making a stop at a geothermal feature aptly named Mud Volcano. We crammed the RV into a side parking spot along with the plethora of other vehicles and almost walked into a herd of Bison that were roaming around the area.

We took a ton of photos of the herd and their little calves as we walked along the boardwalk surrounding the geothermal feature. While preparing to leave the site, the herd seemed to get spooked and took off across the road, blocking traffic for a few minutes before heading down to another pasture. As we started driving again it started to rain, we had been lucky this far since it hadn’t rained too much on us even though it was forecasted to rain all day. When we reached the Canyon Village area,IMG_0866_fix  it was still pouring down putting a damper on us checking out the waterfalls; however, were able to snag a lucky parking spot and suited up with rain jackets and umbrellas to catch some stunning footage of the falls and canyon before jumping back in the RV. Our next plan was to nip into the Canyon Village visitors center for our passport stamp but the visitors center was already closed for the day!! Hours ahead of advertised. We decided to take the west side of the upper loop road and keep our eyes out for a campground for the night while keeping an eye on the darkening skies and looming clouds overhead. Little did we know we were in for a very bumpy, dirty ride as half the west side of the upper loop was under construction. We survived the puddly, pot hole laden, suspension death trap relatively unscathed and the weather had also brightened up so we decided to go for the slightly further afield free campsite for the night. Along the way we stopped at Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces, another geothermal feature on the map.

It was quite the sight with many different pinks, oranges and greys as well as a variety of textures and formations. We took a little walk along the boardwalk that circuited some of the more interesting features until we were chilly and hungry so we headed back to the RV and on to our free spot. We found a little riverside rest area just outside the town of Gardiner, MT. Yes, we had actually crossed into another state to reach our resting place. It was a chilly night and we were still having issues with our generator and battery power. We bundled up and headed to bed.

June 18 – Yellowstone
We were up pretty early and made breakfast before ascending the short but steep switchback driveway out onto the main highway. A few miles down the road we passed through Gardiner once again and stopped for diesel before re-entering Yellowstone from the north gate where we had exited the night previous. Just up the windy drive from the gate we made a stop at the Mammoth Springs visitor center to collect yet another passport stamp and use the WiFi to arrange for an oil change with an Idaho Falls mechanic. From the north end of the park we headed east along the upper loop through the lush green valley and up into the hills. The first viewpoint of the day was at Udine falls where we took a short walk to get a better vantage point of the falls as they streamed down the rocky cliff and crashed into the rushing river below. DSC03276_fixOur photos and selfies were wrapped up just in time for the rain to start, however, this time the rain only lasted a few miles before letting up and allowing us to climb up into the mountains and over the pass with a tremendous view of the ice fields in the distance. We hit Tower Falls next but the incredibly packed parking lot was unwelcoming to a rig of our size so we claimed a nearby roadside pull out to dock Izzy for a few minutes while we went for a peek at the falls. Absurdly busy and feeling rushed, we made the stop quick with a few snaps of the camera and continued onward toward Canyon Village. Being midday, lunch was high on the priority list so we whipped up some grub and went in to the visitor center for our stamp and some camp site information at the ranger booth before continuing east to the lower loop road and turning south. One of our favorite parts of the park were the Artists Paint Pots which had an awesome walk around the colorful thermal springs and spattering mud pots all encompassed by a forest of burnt out trees harboring bright green mossy growths.

The paint pots really had us riding high and made us super excited for the next stop and one of the most famous and picturesque sights of the park, Grand Prismatic Spring. Unfortunately, on arrival the parking lot was insane and people we lined up for what seem like miles along the road so we had to forgo the highly anticipated stop and continue on our drive. The sky’s were darkening to a threatening level and the day was getting on in hours so we had to make a decision on the next sights to see. The park is huge and our two days really didn’t do it justice however the weather had limited our hiking opportunities anyway. The last stop for the day was at the world famous Old Faithful, a sight synonymous with Yellowstone. We arrived and though the place was busy as expected, the parking lot was enormous in comparison to the others. We inquired at the ranger booth for the expected blast off of the reliable geyser and were given an hour or so to wander the plethora of different geysers all with their own viewing platforms and character.

Coming full circle and having more footage than we could ever hope to use, we arrived back at Old Faithful in a timely manner as it began a wave of spouting and shooting it’s steamy vapor far into the air. Surprisingly to us the show lasted for nearly five minutes from a quiet sputter to an all out wizardry eruption and back again to spurts. DSC03396_fixIt was deep into evening by the time we had gotten out of the rush hour parking lot so we decided to stay locally in the parks southern most campground Lewis Lake, which to our advantage, maxed out at our exact length of 25ft, no exceptions!!. We circled the camp at first trying to locate an ideal spot but eventually we just settled for a nest we’d actually fit our buts in. The forecast for the night wasn’t looking kind for our situational lack of battery power and a dead generator but we were still far from roughing it in our luxury box. We layered up in the near freezing temps and frustratingly made the most of our quiet night by taking a walk to the lake and talking with a neighbor.

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A Patriotic Mountain and an Underground Gem

The last few days have seen us to some incredible different places.  The Badlands were unlike anything else, (see previous post) Mount Rushmore was an incredible feat of workmanship, and Jewel Caves were a surprising addition.

Oacoma to Moorecroft

June 14 – Wall Drug & Rapid City
We awoke super early this morning and sadly there was no sun in sight; an enormous cloud hovered over the cliff and impeded our panels from powering us up. Our batteries were abnormally low and, oddly, we had to start up the RV to charge the batteries enough to finish raising the bed. We had some fruit for breakfast before taking a little bike ride along the path which followed the edge of the cliff. As we packed up the rig the sun came out beating back the clouds which seemed to be frozen in the sky. We had decided to treat ourselves for breakfast and head into the town of Wall to check out the infamous Wall Drug, a former drug store turned tourist attraction whose billboards had been slapping us in the face for hundreds of miles. We headed into the cafe and were more than a little let down by the options on the menu. We ended up splitting a veggie burger, pancakes, eggs, hashbrowns and of course two cups of their 5 cent coffee. We have definitely had better breakfasts for less and better coffee but for more. Their homemade donuts were their redemption though our threshold of impression wasn’t terribly high at that point. We wandered the Wall Drug back lot which boasted a T-Rex, a Jackalope and a host of other kitschy tourist attractions.

We stopped at a local shop to fill up our propane tank and top off our diesel before setting out on the highway toward Rapid City. Today was supposed to be the hottest day yet with highs of 37deg C/ melting pot F. We had planned on heading to Mount Rushmore today but with the heat we were very concerned about Monty and decided to put that off till tomorrow to spend some time in the AC at an RV park. We stopped at Walmart for groceries and cat food, while running the generator with AC cranked to make sure Monty stayed cool. Turns out Izzy didn’t really like the heat either as she struggled up some of the steep hills we had to climb to get to our RV park. We ultimately reached our destination of Rushmore Shadows RV park quite early in the afternoon so we set up quickly, had some lunch and hauled our laundry and swimmers to the club house and pool for a productive and relaxing afternoon. For dinner we treated ourselves to grilled portobello mushroom sandwiches, home made of course, and sat out on the picnic table enjoying every bite. The cat had been out exploring on his own while we worked on our computers organizing photos and making some videos but as darkness set in he was still nowhere to be seen. We circled the park calling him but to no avail before hearing the crows call out from the street outside the park. We cut through the yards and continued to call finding a few other felines but not the orange fur ball we’d scoured the last hour for. Finally, deciding he had enough for the night, we discovered him crawling back under the fence where we’d assumed he was. With the search party called off, we crawled up to bed and slept soundly till sunrise.

June 15 – Mount Rushmore & Jewel Cave
Changing up our morning routine we carved up some slices of baguette and slapped together a couple rockin’ eggwhiches topped with peppers, tomato, hummus and spinach. We had to do a little hunting for the cat again while we drank our coffee but the creature of habit was up to his old tricks again slipping under the fence and out of our reach. After calling him and enticing him back, we left Rushmore Shadows in our shadow and crawled up the extremely steep hills to reach Mount Rushmore itself. It was a blue sky, sunny day and not too hot, perfect for traipsing around Mount Rushmore. We took a ton of photos as we walked along the path peering up at the iconic landmark.

After a few hundred shots our trigger fingers were limp as we went in search of the Rushmore sticker and stamp. It took some detective work to locate their whereabouts but once discovered they were quickly in our grasp. Concerned for the hills along the long road ahead we got some information on the best route to take to our next stop Jewel Caves National Monument. The ranger had told us it was a flat drive to get there but we seem have a different definition of “flat”. Along the way we passed the Crazy Horse Monument which is still under construction so we decided against stopping and continued to cruise. We reached Jewel Cave in one piece and made some lunch in the parking lot. We soon discovered that they only did guided tours of the cave which weren’t expensive but unfortunately the next one wasn’t for another 2 hours. After purchasing two of the few remaining tickets, we killed some time collecting our Jewel Cave stamp and sticker and reorganizing our pockets and clothing to fit the stringent regulations the cave masters allow. The tour was started off with the longest elevator ride in South Dakota plunging us 300ft below the surface. The tour was about a ½ mile long, consisting of 723 stairs, and multiple different rock formations. Photos were difficult to capture in the low light but we made do with the camera and action cam.

After the tour we headed back to the RV and set out to our spot for the night, an un-glamorous rest area right off Interstate 90. The drive was quite pretty as we headed along highway 16. Some dark and foreboding clouds were off in the distance and we could see some flashes of lightening that made us mildly nervous. It rained on us for some of the drive, at one point in the distance to the north-east we could see a larger formation coming out of the earth, we assume was Devils Tower. The rest area left something to be desired being quite noisy from the the highway as well as from the semi’s parked next to us, but the rain had let up so it wasn’t all bad. According to the sign there was no overnight parking allowed, but we had no other plans so we proceeded with our nights stay at risk.

Finding Good In The Badlands

June 13 – Badlands, SD
Our eyes had been suctioned to billboards for miles upon miles dangling the promise of 5 cent coffee at the great Al’s Oasis, a welcomed deal to us budget travelers. We were convinced to forgo making our regular breakfast Joe and instead hit the road running this morning. We set off rumbling back up the dirt road that led us to last night’s killer riverside site and pulled into a gas station for diesel and to check the tire pressure. It’s become quite common to strike up a conversation comparing rigs and shooting the road news with the other diesel guzzlers around the pumps at fill up time, and today was no exception. We weren’t setting any fill up records circling the parking lot and maneuvering for the air hose, but it was well worth the extra few moments to ensure Izzy’s shoes were snugged up for the road. Just down from the gas stations Al’s Oasis awaited us with a western town facade and some brown Bison making for the day’s first great photo ops.

Resting Izzy in the sunshine, we went in to Al’s Oasis for a few groceries, a case of beer and of course the coffee we’d been so intently anticipating. To our dismay however, the 5 cent coffee was a cruel misleader for restaurant patronage which was not on our radar by any stretch. We left low on the caffeine kick but the sarcastic humour of the 90 year old lady behind the register saved our morning and Al’s behind!! We were raring to go high on anticipation for the Badlands NP but as we rolled out, the sky turned menacing and the rain started with furry. It was a windy driving rain and it actually started to leak in Beau’s driver side window as well as the living room window behind the couch. Confused and frustrated we quickly pulled off the road in an attempt to dam the river of water pouring down the walls onto the floor. We rummaged around for any towels we could get our hands on and crawled under the couch to stem the flow and limit the damage. To our fortune, the rain eased up and the pooling had subsided as we wrung out our tools and hung them to dry. Our spirits were down trodden when we reached the Badlands due to the weather, the leak, and at least in Diane’s case, low blood sugar. The vistas were sweeping and something to behold but the ceiling had lessened the magnificence of the scene.

Our trip has a goal and it’s to max out our park time so we purchased an annual parks pass giving us entrance to all the national parks in the US. In a slow roll we ventured into the park, drawn to the horizon, and pulled off at the first look out which was packed with other parkies. The best way forward, we decided, was to mow down some chow and hit the land full force and fully fueled. Slowly, as we sat munching away, the parking lot cleared out and so did the clouds and we were left with a spectacular, welcoming view of the lands and a glimpse of what was in store. We walked to the look out and snapped a bunch of photo’s before setting off in search of the visitors center. We hadn’t driven a mile yet when there was another scenic lookout with several entrances to a castle of formations, and long board walk leading to a path across the lands. There were many warning signs about bringing water even if you weren’t going far and to stay on the path or risk the perils.

We wandered the board walk and explored out onto the rocky outcroppings, climbing atop the mounds to get a view of it’s vastness. The view went on forever with little hint of life or comfort in the foreboding landscape, “Badlands” characterized it well. We didn’t go far since we were ill prepared and we had a monster awaiting us in the RV, but luckily the day was kept cool by a consistent breeze and it wasn’t too warm in the RV for Monty. The road proceeded to get windy and steep and an inopportune bump on a down hill stretch gave the bathroom cupboard more than it could handle as it flung open spilling its guts all over the floor and sink. We had even secured this door with a Velcro clasp but that, apparently, was no match for momentum with a splash of gravity. As we rounded the next corner with our shampoo bottles rolling about, there was another scenic lookout which warned “Passenger Vehicles Only!” but there was a roadside pull off so we came to a screeching halt. Tag teaming the stop we divided and conquered! one popping off for some photos while the other corralled our strewn about bottles and bits, the cat meanwhile was shaken and stirred as he hid under the couch till the trouble had cleared.

A long low gear descent and a few turns later we reached our treasure chest of a visitor centre for stamp number 1 in our National Parks Passport. The gift from a colleague was awaiting it’s purpose but now the trail had begun and our path set on track. Cherry Popped! The drive continued in a similar fashion with banging and clanking but minus the crashing for the rest of the 25 mile drive. We stopped at several more scenic lookouts snapping a plethora of photos and hung arm length out the window with video rolling as we wobbled, turn by turn, down the windy road.

With the breathtaking scenery of the paved loop behind us, we exited the park gates greeted by buffalo and peered at by prairie dogs to our stop a mile down the road. Our camping site for the night was a free boondocking spot proposed to us by a pair of fellow RVers in Wisconsin. We had to open a sketchy “gate” of barbed wire to enter the cattle grazing field then carefully maneuver down the dirt path till we found our ideal clearing for the night. We picked a perfect little slice of grasslands and set ourselves up for dinner with a view and sat peering over the badlands from our perch on high. We took a meander, stalked by the cat, but the poor little guy started panting halfway through under the intensity and heat of the sun so we turned back to get him cooled off in the RV. Don’t worry the little fur brat bounced back quickly enough and was soon wondering where second dinner was and whining to go back outside. We were in awe of the spectacular views we had seen that day and also our awesome camping spot. The wind was pretty intense coming over the bluff but we were battened down tight and enjoying the colours of the incredible sunset.

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South Dakota arrives with Sioux Falls and a Corn Palace

Some rainy days didn’t dampen our spirits although some water infiltration threaten to drown them.  We discovered the beauty of Sioux Falls, SD and had an earful at the Corn Palace in Mitchell.  We discovered some great free or inexpensive campsites too!

Grand Meadow to Oacoma

June 10 – Magnolia MN
We awoke at 3am to a heavy deluge pounding the roof of the rig. In a move of justified paranoia we did a quick round of the interior checking that our hull hadn’t been breached, only to find a pooling pond of water leaking out from behind the fridge. We had to park on a sloped patch of grass beneath the lamp post for power last night but unfortunately the opportunistic downpour got an inside look at our posh interior. In our half sleepy panic we mopped up the waiting pool and traced the leak to it’s suspected point of entry where we stacked some towels before returning to our slumber with no hope of a solution before daybreak. When we awoke later that morning the rain had thankfully eased and surprisingly the ground had dried up well enough to step out the DSC02860_fixdoor without loosing a flip flop in it’s grasp. We had another work out, taking advantage of the jungle gym and a fairly dry gravel ground supplying some much needed drainage. In the mean time our little heater worked it’s hardest to dry out where the floor had gotten wet and clear the moisture from the indoor air and windows. Having dealt with our share of basements in the past and being all too familiar with the uninterruptible characteristic of water flowing to exactly where it’s not invited, we chose a waterproof vinyl flooring in our remodel and thankfully so.
We drove 30mins down the highway to Austin MN, where we stopped at a Caribou Coffee house to indulge in some wifi and suck back some much needed coffee after our early morning interruption. We’ve had poor to no service at many campsites on this trip but working with a balance of budget and necessities it’s always a give and take, besides, we like to consider ourselves campers not quite glampers. Once we had wrapped up in the coffee shop we got some diesel and headed out of town. We left Austin without checking out the Spam Museum much to Diane’s disappointment, but some things are best left to the imagination. Along our route we stopped in Blue Earth and snapped a primo selfie with Mr. ho-ho-ho himself, the Jolly Green Giant. The story behind the Giant is very strange and was basically built to entice travelers to stop in Blue Earth once the I-90 was built.

Like bass to the bait hook we couldn’t refuse the call of the giant, we are vegetarians after all, but it gave us a perfect backdrop to whip up some guac and snacks for lunch. Opportunity found us another city run campground just off the highway in Magnolia and this time it was above sea level. It had become a beautiful sunny day when we stopped for the evening but it was very windy. We had our pick of sites and maneuvered into a nicely leveled and sheltered one with some shade. Attempting to head off a reenactment of our interior pooling this morning, we took the opportunity to try to seal up where the water had infiltrated and also had to re-glue one of the head light mounts that had shaken loose from our rattle-mobile. The much welcomed sunlight created the perfect opportunity to test drive our Scrubba, a manual laundry bag made for camping and other unannounced underwear emergencies. We loaded up the bag with the tea towels used to sop up the water last night, poured in some water and added the soap. The next 5 minutes were spent mushing, rubbing, massaging and manipulating towels around in the bag and across it’s interior washboard like nubs. In the mean time we’d spotted an ideal location for draping a line from Izzy to a nearby tree and once the rinse cycle was complete we had a full fledged makeshift laundry operation on the go.  The last few days of rain had put a damper on our campfire dreams though we had some wood left in the hold since our wagon load in Wisconsin. Normally we’d have deemed it far too windy for a camp fire but responsible decision making had been washed away in the flood it appeared and we stoked up a good one and let our lumber blaze away in the flames of glory.

June 11 – Magnolia MN
Monty was a particularly unrelenting jerk face this morning and woke us up around 4:30am. He’s regularly an early riser especially when compared to us however, we can usually ignore him and he goes back to sleep until we get up. but that was not the case this morning. After about an hour and a near strangling he did settle back down but due to this apparently he just doesn’t understand the importance of time zones and his clock was still on eastern standard time. Once we eventually arose, we utilized the free showers and had a yummy breakfast of a fruit and egg medley. We were discussing our route and how far we had to go to reach the Badlands and Mount Rushmore which were approaching as quickly as our 50 MPH cruise speed would allow. Assuming the travelers were flocking to the area, we pre-booked a reservation near Rushmore for June 14th still a few days off, but on the radar none the less. The day’s forecast was bleak and the sky outside was extremely ominous with the winds sustaining their roaring pace. We made the team decision to stay put for the day and catch up on a backlog of work. We have full hook ups, more than enough food and it’s only $10 a night. Late in the afternoon it still hadn’t actually rained on us so we went for a walk around the town of Magnolia and five minutes later we were done. There are about four streets to the town and was probably much busier before the I-90 was built since the old highway likely went right through it’s core, imagine the gridlock!!. It was good to stretch our legs though and do a bit of exploring. The discussion around cleaning out our black and grey water tanks had been a lingering one since before we began our journey and now appeared to be D-Day. There is a quick water hook up that sprays into the tanks to aid in degunking them so we gave it a try, we were here, hooked up to the sewer, it seemed like as good a time as any. The job went surprisingly smooth and left with time to tackle a few other chores around the house. We spent the rest of the day planning our route and packing up our explosion of gear around the site before turning in for the night.

 

 

June 12 – Sioux Falls and the Corn Palace
When we awoke this morning we took advantage of the glorious sunshine and did a work out and some yoga. The free hot showers were a nice end to our two day rest in Magnolia Village. We hit the road and crossed into South Dakota, our fourth state on our route. We were destined for the largest city, Sioux Falls just over the border off the I-90. Upon arrival we headed for Falls Park to check out the water falls that graced the city with its name. We mowed down a quick lunch before setting out to explore the park with our cameras and drone of course. The park was immaculately kept and the city itself has a bike loop that links multiple parks spread throughout the city which we’d have taken better advantage of if we were sticking around for more than the afternoon. There was an observation tower which was free to climb and offered birds-eye views of the park, falls and surroundings. Not surprisingly there was a boutique gift shop at the base to lure in unsuspecting tourists but it was surprisingly affordable and offered us the perfect opportunity to find ourselves another magnet to add to our ceiling collection. We took our time wandering the park, snapping photos and reading the historic information. There used to be 3 falls but in the early 1900’s the lower falls were destroyed to allow more water to flow to the hydro electric damn. The Big Sioux River is the reason the city came into existence and was a major settlement as it supplied the required power to build up a thriving industrial base. We broke out “Droney” after some meandering and did some flyovers of the falls and park before getting back on the road.

About an hour later we stopped in to the town of Mitchel for the highly advertised Corn Palace! the worlds ONLY corn palace that is!! There were plenty of corny (ha ha) jokes going around but overall it turned out to be quite interesting. The original corn palace was built in the late 1800’s as a way to attract people to the city. It was a concert hall and exhibition center. The property has been rebuilt twice and expanded both times to the building it is today. Local specialty and hybrid varieties of corn are specially grown and used to decorate the exterior and interior of the building giving the mosaics their natural colour. About 130 acres of land is devoted to growing corn just for the palace which gets a face lift each year after harvest is complete. This year’s theme was South Dakota weather which is evident in it’s collection of scenes covering it’s façade, however, every year brings a different series of designs to it’s walls as the designers and artisans work together to nail up every ear by hand. Today the building is used for sporting events, concerts and graduations in the fall and winter while acting as a tourist info center in the late spring and summer. It was interesting to see how the building had contributed to the growing of the town and though the concept seemed a bit odd to an outsider, it really was a celebration of farming community culture.

Once we had an earful we drove for about another hour and a half to find our stopping place for the night. A free campground outside Oacoma SD right on the Missouri River. It was a picturesque spot and we wished we had arrived a little earlier to enjoy it more. We had some dinner and took a walk with Monty along the riverside. It was a lovely evening free of bugs

Trekking West, Wisconsin to Minnesota

We enjoyed some sunshine on the Wisconsin Door peninsula for Beau’s birthday before trekking west across Wisconsin into Minnesota.  Between cheese curds, a corn palace and some amazing water falls it was an awesome trek in the Trek!

Green Bay to Grand Meadow

June 7 – Sturgeon Bay
We awoke to the cling, clang, honk and clank of the bustling Cabelas parking lot where we stowed away for the night. During breakfast hour, we let the cat out as usual to scour the lot area but lost him in the weeds of the wet lands adjacent to the lot, not to worry he made his leisurely way back to us. We had no power issues when we woke up this morning, as the solar panels were situated lovingly in the sun’s glory and there were kindly no clouds for miles. It was a swooping left, north, up the western coast of the Door peninsula towards Sturgeon Bay. The cute little town wasn’t booming at the moment but had all the amenities required by these simple wanderers, namely food, gas, post office and beer. Along the coastal route we came across a little park just outside Sturgeon Bay where we pulled off for lunch and took advantage of some green space to let the cat out and picnic.

We watched the birds swooping and skimming the tall reeds of the wetland before us. Then us three amigos went for a wander up a quarry cliff for an elevated view over the park and bay. Satisfied with sunshine and topped up with guac, we meandered the few more miles to our habitat for the night, Harbour Village RV Park. The place was impressive from a facilities point as we biked around the grounds, however, to Beau’s disappointment, the water slides were closed as he stood frowning from the outside of the gate, wilting in the sunshine. It was full summer for us but a little quiet in the village on this particular Thursday in early June. We got the RV set up at our site then changed into our cozzies to check out the pool. Coasting down the path in a sad state of mind we stopped in at the adult pool which was a lovely temperature, We went for a swim and laid motionless soaking up some sun poolside with some intermittent dipping. The pool got a little busy being it was the only one open and a reasonable temperature so we headed back to the RV after some time to relax in the shade. We let Monty out and then dug out our comfy outdoor chairs to get some work done outdoors. Once sunset had drawn we bundled inside with a hot cup of tea and planned our route west the following day.

June 8 – Wilton
We took the opportunity this morning to have showers especially since we had been in a pool yesterday. Beau made us up an awesome veggie scramble for breakfast with an egg on top like mamma used to do. We realized as we were getting packed up we hadn’t seen Monty since we let him out right after we got up so we spent the next hour roaming the park calling his name until finally the crows outed the little devil from the bushes a few sites down. The RV was packed and waiting to go but due to the search party we overstayed our campers commitment by an hour or so, luckily without penalty. We stopped at Renard’s Cheese for cheese sample and cheese curds, we couldn’t leave Wisconsin without trying some of their cheese and indulge we did.

We headed down the highway back past Green Bay stopping for lunch in a park a few towns south. Monty was restless and itching for a little walk in the park but it seemed a little busy for him and buggy for us as he tried to go across the road towards the houses instead of staying in the park. We ended up eating inside the RV, enjoying our cheese curds, then continued on our way. It was mostly a day of driving for us not super exciting but a necessity these days. We had scoped out an inexpensive campground on our route and just headed there. There didn’t seem to be much to see along the way but rolling hills and dairy farms but we found our way to the village of Wilton where there was a town run camp ground for $22 with a wagon full of fire wood, a deal any pyro couldn’t refuse. Monty enjoyed his freedom at the campground harassing the birds and ended up in a little face off with a deer at one point. We unleashed the drone before munching some chow and stoking the flames. It was a lovely fire and it turned out to be a pretty nice night with the fireflies illuminated the park while the stars shown brightly overhead.

 

June 9 – Crossing the Mississippi
We’ve been talking about exercising in the mornings for awhile, this morning we finally committed. The miles on the road equal to miles on the tush and our joints have been screaming for activity. We made breakfast and coffee and had a little chat with our neighbours. They were a couple around our age just finishing a year of RV travel in their 34′ RV with tow car and 3 dogs. They had a few tips for us about places to stay and site to use to find free/cheap campsites on our journey ahead. We got packed up and finally got around to installing a proper hook on the closet door. The latch on it wasn’t sturdy enough and every left turn we made caused the door to swing open and our bike helmets to spill across the bathroom. We had temporarily secured the door with a bungie cord but that was causing some damage to the cabinets so it was good to get the hook installed. We took the opportunity to use the included dumpsite and lighten Izzy’s load for the rolling hills in sight. We were headed to La Crosse to start our day and leave Wisconsin in our rearview. Once in La Crosse we checked out a scenic out look that was up a steep and windy road called Grandad Bluff. Izzy handled it like a champ as we sat at the edge of our seats praying for the top to appear.

The sites of the city and the Mississippi would have been pretty cool on a nicer day but the sky was bleak and the view felt underwhelming to say the least. We carefully navigated our rig down the hill and went to check out a quick tourist stop at City Brewing, home of the Worlds Largest 6 pack consisting of 6 of their massive brew tanks IMG_0544_fixdressed as beer cans. Although the “cans” labels were exceptionally faded and the roads there tossed every dish to the sky it was a pretty cool sight towering roadside. We headed onto the bridge over the Mississippi and officially crossed into Minnesota. On the west side we stopped at the Welcome Center for a bite and had a quick look at the locks ruling the river. We put together our lunch and enjoyed it at a picnic table overlooking the great Mississippi River. We took some photos and the required selfie. The sky was slowly getting darker and with foreboding clouds not promising a pleasurable road ahead. It had started raining on us when we reached our next temporary stop just south of Rochester MN. We popped into a Fareway Grocery store in Stewartville, MN, which is a lower cost grocery store, and picked up some fruit and veggies as well as a few other items. Our campsite for the night was another 20 min or so from there and the heavens opened up with force. After driving past our stop, we made a u-turn and pulled into Pine Lawn Park where the local town, Grand Meadow, permits camping for a $10 charge with power if you park under the lamp post. The set up wasn’t great, as we sat tilted in the terribly over saturated landscape praying for a reprieve. We had a little trouble with the power as the plug kept falling out of the outlet but with dedication and a zip tie the situation was remedied before we drowned. The rest of the evening passed with quiet contemplation and a lot of rain and wind.

A Hidden Gem on the Upper Peninsula

The next leg of our route took us through the Sault Ste. Marie, the upper Michigan peninsula and down to Greenbay Wisconsin.  We caught up with old friends, discovered a hidden historic gem and saw Lambeau Field, home of Beau’s beloved PackersSerpent River to Green Bay

June 4 – Serpent River to Sault Ste. Marie
It was a dreary morning, much like the night, as we sat staring out the steamy windows, over our bowls of morning oatmeal and finishing up some videos and writings of the days prior. Monty has taken to the habit of plopping his feline furriness between us in the wee hours of the morning and balling up for warmth. Needless to say our quality of sleep has been suffering somewhat, making the morning coffee that much more of a necessity than just it’s usual indulgence. We may appear as pros at managing our RV’s systems to the average camper, but we’re still in our infancy of methodical processes when it comes to some tasks, and as luck would have it, it’s Dump Day! Joy.… The research has been completed, the tools are on board, however, Beau still feels as though he’s rummaging through Grandma’s attic every time he opens the storage hatch and pulls out the collection of hoses, tubing and fittings required for this arduous task. The process wouldn’t be that bad except that he usually forgets about the gloves until he gets that first waft of sewer gas pluming into his face as he uncaps the hold to connect our pipe. Regardless, it’s done and over and Beau successfully wrestled the pieces back into the hatch. His toes were wet but we’ll pretend it’s from the water tap. We continued our route north along Lake Michigan to Sault Ste Marie. We have an old friend who lives there and we were fortunate to be able to meet up with him, as well as have a free place to stay for the night. We’ve known him for years from different places and careers and can never resist the temptation of his mouthwatering home made curry. It had been a few years since we had seen him though and it was great to have the afternoon and evening to catch up with him and his folks as Monty did laps of the house, property and petting stations as per usual. Duncan later took us out for a walk to a really cool park with trails to Crystal Falls and Minnehaha Falls as he regaled to us stories of his childhood, jumping off the falls into the pools below, feats we see as dangerous in our wiser years. We preyed upon Duncan’s hospitality and took the opportunity to do some laundry and stretch our extension cord to his nearest outlet to warm up our 200 sqft. of Izzy comfort for our driveway campsite. Catching up with a great friend was a fantastic way to temporarily end our Canadian leg of the journey as we rested up for our crossing south back in the USA in the morning.

 

June 5 – Along Lake Michigan to Fayette Historic State Park
With a belly full of pancakes courtesy of Duncan’s mom, we showered, packed up and bid fair well to Duncan and his family and really to Canada for a little while. We drove through Sault Ste. Marie to the border crossing, which was a surprisingly eventful drive. There were two vehicle accidents, one where someone had rear ended another and then one two blocks later where a massive roll of steel had fallen off a transport truck.

Fortunately no one seemed to be hurt in either case and the slower traffic gave us a little extra time to solve our route. The signage for the border was a little confusing but we found the correct turn and crossed the bridge into the US. The border was a little complicated since we still have Georgia plates on the RV and have Canadian passports. IMG_0460_fixWe also had some restricted food items that we had sadly only picked up a few days ago. Apparently no citrus, avocados, peppers, tomatoes among other things. The boarder guards were very friendly though and also gave us some information on exporting the RV from the US which we apparently need to do, and should have already. We stopped just after we crossed to boarder for fuel and to re-provision and make some lunch. From there it was a straight shot continuing west along the highway. We stopped at one scenic lookout and rest stop which turned out to be the north most point of Lake Michigan. We couldn’t believe how powdery the sand was for a lake but then again it is a big lake! We took some selfies, had a pee break and continued our journey.

As is usually the case, we had been researching while driving to find a place to stop for the night and one of the state parks seemed like a good option. It was a nice drive following the lake south before making a left and heading for Fayette Historic State Park. We unfortunately had to drive 16 miles down the road and Beau wasn’t too impressed about the distance with the end result being so up in the air, but we made the move regardless. We arrived at the park and it was a little more than the $25 we thought it was going to be as we had to pay a park fee as well. We were feeling a little peeved about the price but had already driven 16 miles so we decided to proceed. We found the spot we had chosen (we had to call an operator to reserve a site) only to find there was no way we’d fit Izzy on it and it had a reserved cone. We decided to use the one next to it instead, there were not too many people in the park as could be happily expected on an early June Tuesday. Upon examining the brochure we had picked up it seemed there was a historic area down the way. We unloaded the bikes, got a few bits tighten up, and set off down the trail on their maiden voyage. The innocent thrill of being back on some bikes again under the beautifully blue sky was a joy in itself, however, the historic site blew away all of our expectations. It was an immaculately kept town from the 1860s.

We exchanged an incredulous look and wondered what rabbit hole had we fallen down. We had the town to ourselves other than the couple deer doing some spontaneous grounds-keeping. There was a hotel restored to perfect condition, the old foundry walls were still standing as were the walls to the town store. Many of the houses the middle class would have lived in were still there too. Fayette was a bustling iron town in it’s hay day being the mid to late 1800’s. We road our bikes all over town and were able to explore inside of some of the buildings too. Understanding our park fee went to such a grand project, allowing us to peer back in time to how our ancestors lived on this remote peninsula of northern Lake Michigan gave us a major appreciation for the Parks Department. IMG_9261_fixAfter a thorough investigation we rode back to our campsite where our kitty was patiently waiting to be let in. We made some dinner and decided to take a short walk through the woods behind our site to the beach to catch the sunset. The beach was inundated with some sort of flying insect, they didn’t seem to bite but definitely were annoying. We set a camera to interval on a tripod and sat back to enjoy the reds, yellows and oranges spreading across the horizon and reflecting in the calmness of the vast lake. It was a killer day on our lakeside route, we drifted to bed dreaming how the next days could possibly live up to this one.

 

June 6 – Green Bay
After whipping up some breakfast and coffee in Izzy’s galley, we bicycled over to the beach area of the park but were unfortunately completely underwhelmed. It was nothing compared to the historic town we’d explored the day before. We decided to head back over to the town as we wanted to try to drone the area again and take some more pics for the album before heading out. The footage was great as the winds were much calmer, although the sky wasn’t as picturesque as yesterday. There was still lots of daylight ahead of us but there were equally as many miles if we wanted to reach our destination of Green Bay, WY this evening. We loaded up the bikes and set off down the highway before stopping just outside Green Bay at Cooper Culture State park to make some lunch. IMG_0508_fixTaking advantage of the warm day and an opportunity to stretch our driving muscles, we decided to take a little walk around the park and had Monty in tow. He surprisingly followed behind, guarding our flank for a little bit then would run ahead of us and await for our arrival before falling back again. None of us were really sure of the situation but it worked out fantastically as we explored the park together keeping an eye on each other. We had been discussing where to stay for the evening and what to do with ourselves since it wasn’t too late in the day and we were only about 30 min from Green Bay. We decided to have a free nights stay at the Cabela’s parking lot and then go check out the stadium. Since tomorrow was Beau’s birthday we decided to go for dinner at the Lambeau Atrium restaurant, 1919. From the Cabela’s lot, a few blocks from the stadium, we unloaded our bikes and started searching for our bike locks. We searched high and low, digging through our plethora of boxes and storage bins but couldn’t find either of them, we suspect they were left behind in one of our many packed locations. We went into Cabela’s and fortunately they sold a gear lock that seemed to be more than sufficient. With that sorted, we hopped on our bikes, helmet and all, and biked straight down the road to Lambeau Field. We took some photos outside the stadium then locked our bikes to a lamp post and went to check out the swag shop as it was closing shortly. Beau picked up some Packers magnets and we found some other Packers swag on clearance since it was for Jordy Nelson.

We took a few more photos and then headed into the restaurant for a bite. It’s called 1919 since that was the year the Packers were founded. We enjoyed a nice pre-birthday dinner, a beer and a delicious Bloody Mary, garnished with beef jerky! We split an amazing flat bread, smoked white fish dip and some naughty deep fried cheese curds, after all, we’re cheese heads! Once we were full to the brim we took the rest of the white fish dip to go and headed back to Izzy. Monty was dying to go out so we decided to give the leash another go. Of course as soon as we got out of the RV, Beau stepped on the cat and he took off and out of the harness. Instead, we decided just to walk around the back of Cabela’s with him until they closed. Fortunately he seemed to stay near by so later on we just let him out to do his own thing. The evening finished off with some more computer work and write ups. We were lulled to sleep by the roar of the highway.

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