Update 6: August 30, 2006

Scorecard: 132 days; 13,065 miles (Car: 4,982, RV: 8,083); 16 states; 19 National Parks; 4,102 photos.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park: July 22-25, 2006 (Location 26 on the Map)

We enjoyed our stay in the Black Hills, but after several days we were anxious to get back on the road. Although I'm not sure why I was anxious to go to North Dakota; had it not been for Theodore Roosevelt National Park, we would have happily skipped this state.

But what fun we would have missed if we hadn't gone. US85 is the highway we took to travel north from South Dakota. It is about as straight and as empty as any road we'd been on, and I was finding it hard to stay awake. It's not exactly a good idea to drive a seven-ton motor home with a two-year-old and a pregnant woman when you're almost falling asleep, but fortunately I was presented with a diversion: counting dead rabbits. For whatever reason, after passing the state line into North Dakota, we started seeing dead rabbits along the sides of (and occasionally in the middle of) the road. As anyone who's traveled in North Dakota can probably attest, counting dead rabbits is infinitely more fun than staring out on the amber waves of nothingness along the way. The fun lasted until dead rabbit number 51, at which time the novelty had finally died off. It was replaced by a new diversion: the wind. Both Susan and I drove that day, and both of us had times where violent winds would strike the RV and we would find ourselves momentarily fighting for control in an effort to keep from being swept off the side of the road. At the end of the day, we agreed that racing heart rates did more to keep us awake than did a bunch of dead rabbits.

We camped in Medora, just outside the park entrance. Surprisingly, Medora was full of tourists, which we found later was probably due more to the Medora Musical than to the park itself. We were thankful again for electricity at the campground, since temperatures were around 100-degrees and many of the sites-ours included-had no trees to relieve the heat of the unrelenting sun. Now that we had moved out of the West, we were also beginning to experience that special Midwest treat known as humidity.

We spent the first day driving around the park's South Unit, where we discovered that there is more to North Dakota than frigid winters and dead rabbits. This was a beautiful area, and reminded me a little of Badlands National Park with the strange multi-colored formations. But where Badlands is desolate and seemingly devoid of life, Theodore Roosevelt is dotted with the green of Cottonwoods, Junipers and other hardy plant life, and supports bison, elk, prairie dogs and wild horses. By the time our driving tour of this unit was done, it was early afternoon and getting very warm. We went to the Medora community pool, where Justin was able to play with a fellow two-year-old. Afterwards, itching to get in some exercise, I went on a short 4-mile hike past a huge herd of bison and through several prairie dog towns. It was almost unbearable hiking weather, which probably explained why no one else was at the trailhead. However, I was motivated to get on top of one of the bluffs and check out the Needle Eye formation, so I finished my hike quickly, knowing that I'd soon be back in the comfort of air conditioning.

The next day we planned to get an early start and do a short hike in the South Unit before driving an hour away to see the North Unit. We were only a couple of miles into our hike when we realized that it was just too hot to be hiking with me carrying the extra weight of Justin and Susan carrying the extra weight of Justin's new sibling. We turned around, made the long drive to the North Unit, and found that it wasn't much different than where we'd just been. Our most noteworthy event of the day was stopping in at the visitor's center, where Ranger John taught Justin (who was going around to the various scatological displays and saying "Bison poop", "elk poop", etc.) that another word for "poop" is "scat". Justin enjoyed his new word, and returned to the many displays to practice it.

So in the end, North Dakota was a worthwhile stop. As a side note, while driving across I-94 the next day on our way to Fargo, we were rewarded with more driving diversions: Salem Sue, the world's largest Holstein cow in New Salem; the world's largest Sandhill Crane in the town of Steele; and the world's largest Buffalo in Jamestown. And I thought North Dakota would be boring!

New bird: Red-headed Woodpecker.

For photos from Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Click Here
Minnesota: July 26-30, 2006 (Location 28 on the Map)

We stayed in Fargo for the night before heading out for Baudette, Minnesota. We had been looking forward to Minnesota for awhile, not only because we’d never been there, but because we would be hooking up with our good friends Sally from Phoenix and Jean from Minneapolis. Sally flew into Minneapolis the day before, and she and Jean drove north—past the giant Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox—to meet us in the town where Sally grew up.

We parked the RV at Sally’s mom’s house, where there was an extra set of full RV hookups next to the garage. Not only did that save us some money, but their ten-acre spread is in a beautiful location and turned out to be a great place for Susan to do some birding. Thankfully, Sally and her mom are birders as well, which meant that Susan finally had someone along who appreciated birding as much as she does. She finds birding with me to be a bit of a chore, since I don’t really have the patience for it. We went into town for a few groceries, saw Sally’s sister’s store on Main Street and went to take pictures of the giant Willie Walleye in the center of town. (Yes, yet another giant inanimate object to amuse the tourists).

The next day we took Justin to see Sally’s nephew digging a pond with a huge backhoe. I think he liked watching it rip up the earth, but only if I was holding him; if I let him down, he’d get scared. After that we took some leftover corn from the previous night’s dinner to feed the pigs at Sally’s niece’s house. This was Justin’s first time around pigs, and hopefully he got it out of his system, because those things really are very dirty and extremely smelly and I don’t need to see more pigs anytime soon. Later, we went to Sally’s sister’s house for a fish fry, where they brought in the Walleye Wagon from a local resort to fry up fresh-caught Walleye. This is fish country and I didn’t want offend anyone, but since I’m allergic to fish, I didn’t partake. There were dozens of people there who we didn’t know, but it was nice for Justin to have some kids to play with.

The real treat of the visit to Baudette was driving into Canada and taking a boat out to the Reel ‘Em Inn Lodge, located on one of the thousands of small islands in Lake of the Woods. Sally’s sister Jeri and Jeri’s husband Vic run the lodge, and got us a three-room cabin for the night. The big draw to the island is to take one of the lodge’s boats out for fishing, but we were mostly interested in hanging out and enjoying the solitude of the island. On the 23-mile boat ride out to the lodge, Jeri stopped by one of the islands to show us some petroglyphs and pointed out bald eagles on another island. She regaled us with stories of people who had died on the lake. Of course, she did this while we were still in the boat and consequently, still on that very lake. Later in the day, we took another boat ride with Jeri. This was in part to dump the fish guts and other food items leftover from dinner. But it also gave us a chance to see some sights, look for Loons and generally not do too much. When Justin started getting bored and fussy, Jeri let him drive the boat, which of course he loved.

Late the next morning, we caught a ride back to the mainland with Jeri and Vic. They and Sally and Jean were going to a wedding later in the day. Susan, Justin and I stayed behind and did some laundry and tidied up the RV. When everyone came back from the wedding, I sat outside with Sally and one of her brothers and listened to them tell stories from their childhood. It was great to see Sally, one of our very best friends, and it was nice to put faces with all the names she’s been telling us about over the years.

New birds: Purple Finch and American Goldfinch (Minnesota); Common Loon and Eastern Kingbird (Canada).

For photos from Minnesota, Click Here
Voyageurs National Park: July 30-August 2, 2006 (Location 29 on the Map)

The beauty of northern Minnesota stayed with us as we drove to Kabetogama Lake near Voyageurs National Park. We continued to be amazed at the number of trees in Minnesota. As with other parts of the country we’d been through, this area had experienced a drier-then-usual summer, but you wouldn’t know it from the hundreds of shades of green all around.

We stayed at a small private resort on the shore of Kabetogama Lake. This turned out to be one of our favorite private campgrounds so far, as it had 10 cabins and only two RV sites. The RV sites sat at the top of a rocky knoll, with the cabins and the lake below.

Voyageurs National Park was established to protect the areas that the French-Canadian fur traders used to haul their goods between Northwest Canada and Montreal in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. What this means for visitors today is that much of the park is only accessible by boat. Since we’d had a good amount of boating at our last stop, and because we’d be on a boat again at our next stop, the only boating we did here was a quick ride in a paddleboat. For Justin, it didn’t have quite the excitement as driving Jeri’s boat on Lake of the Woods, but he had fun nonetheless.

Over the course of our stay, we saw three of the park’s visitor centers and got in a short hike on the one day it wasn’t raining. (It figures; after weeks without rain in the area, we got dumped on while we were there). Justin got a kick out of the huge moose on display at one of the visitor centers. He kept running up to people he didn’t know, pointing and saying “That’s a moose. That’s a big moose.” As is becoming his habit in all visitor centers, he provided great entertainment for the other guests.

Another note about this area: We were again rewarded with oversized things along on our route. At the entrance to Kabetogama Lake, there was a 10-foot-long Walleye. Near the town of Rainier, there was a 50-foot-tall Voyageur that Justin wouldn’t go anywhere near. And in International Falls, there was an enormous Smoky the Bear and his cubs. As all thoughtful tourists do, we took pictures of them all.

For photos from Voyageurs National Park, Click Here
Isle Royale National Park: August 2-4, 2006 (Location 30 on the Map)

Next we were off to Grand Marais, a picturesque (quaint?) town on the shore of Lake Superior. We were getting there at the start of some annual fishing brouhaha, so if was crowded at the town campground. Susan took the car and went into town to do laundry while Justin and I waited for the campers in our site to come back and move their truck out of our way. When they arrived, an hour after their checkout time had come and gone, they apologized profusely. It seems they’d gotten delayed at lunch. By way of further apology, they recommended the fish restaurant they ate at, and even recommended a couple of types of fish I might like to try. Being in the middle of the big fish festival and in yet another part of fishing country, I just played along instead of admitting I can’t eat fish.

The next day, we took a boat called the MV Wenonah from Grand Portage to a visitor center at Windigo, located on the island that Isle Royale National Park encompasses. (This got us into the state of Michigan, which would be our only visit to the state).

The boat ride was a full 2-and-a-half hours each way. We entertained Justin with books and cars and by letting him wander around and say hi to people. Fortunately, we were able to sit in a covered section of the boat for both legs of the trip, which proved very useful on the ride back, when the three-foot waves kept smashing against the boat and drenching the poor souls who were stuck outside.

During our day trip to the island, we did a very short hike to a picnic area and generally just wandered around for a while until it was time to get on the boat again. We hadn’t brought Justin’s carrier, so we couldn’t hike too far. And even if we wanted to hike, it was so hot and humid that most people were spending their time trying to stay cool. It was very pretty on the island, though, and we’re glad we got to see it. Before casting off from Windigo, the captain invited Justin up to the helm to blow the ship’s whistle. After he got over the shock of how loud it was, Justin was excited to go back down and tell Mommy what he’d done.

For photos from Isle Royale National Park, Click Here
Wisconsin: August 4-15, 2006 (Locations 31-33 on the Map)

(Susan wrote the Wisconsin update).

With friends, Willy Walleye, and bars in the rear-view mirror (you betcha), we headed south into Wisconsin. We spent a day in Trego, Wisconsin, which lies along the St. Croix River. In order to cool off, we ventured into the coppery waters of the river where Justin bravely battled currents that could easily sweep away a normal two-year-old. (Fortunately, this normal two-year-old was holding onto his 200-pound father). On the return ride to the campground, we discovered a Visitor Center for the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway where Justin struck up a friendship with one of the park rangers. Inside, he proceeded to show her (and any other passersby) the various displays within the center: "See bear? See owl over there? Whaz that? That’s a bear!" Justin clearly was fascinated with a stuffed bear at the entrance to the center.

We exchanged the natural scenery of the St. Croix area for the billboards of the Wisconsin Dells. The advertising there easily rivaled the Black Hills of South Dakota: Mt. Olympus Water & Theme Park with its hokey and oversized version of the Trojan Horse, Rick Wilcox Magic Theater (obviously he couldn't make it in Vegas), and the Tommy Bartlett Show that has been around since I was a child. I don't want to date myself, but let's say it's old. Nonetheless, we succumbed to the commercialism and took Justin to a water park. He showed little interest in the kiddie pool--it was the wave pool for this kid. Amidst dodging the waves, he initiated conversations with any patron with a listening ear. We ended our adventure in the Dells by heading over to Devil's Lake State Park. Our intention was to climb, but all of the playpen-friendly areas were taken. At first disappointed, we resolved ourselves to a hike. It turned into a five-mile one that we thoroughly enjoyed.

Next, it was off to Racine and my old stomping grounds. We met up with my parents there. We visited the lakefront marina, the Wisconsin State Fair, a supreme Italian restaurant named Renzo's, a few friends, and an interesting laundromat. To entertain himself throughout the boring twisting and turning of the commercial washers, Justin decided to name off the numbers he saw: "That's an eight! See seven?" A patron and the female employee were quite impressed with his number recognition skills. To make sure it was not some kind of fluke, they tested his intelligence. "What is this?" the woman asked while pointing to the three. "Three!" answered Justin. The woman asked me how old Justin was. "Twenty-six months", I replied. "Oh, he's almost three", she dismissed as though his language and number skills were no longer impressive. "Actually, he just turned two in June", I corrected, wondering where this woman learned math. To which she replied, "Wow! I wish my two-year-old could count like that." With that woman as a mentor, it's no wonder the poor kid can't count correctly. Needless to say, Racine is not exactly the way I remembered it.

For photos from Wisconsin, Click Here
Illinois: August 15-20, 2006 (Location 34 on the Map)

(She wrote this one, too).

Off to Chicago. We paid $13.25 in toll charges to ride on the most dilapidated roads imaginable. We're not sure who's profiting from the collected moneys, but it surely isn't the highway system. We arrived in Tinley Park at our next campground--if you can call it that. We were grossly overcharged to stay in a glorified parking lot. The smell of the tap water bore a strong resemblance to dirt, the restrooms had cracked and yellowing shower stalls, and the lake (which was advertised for banquet and party use) was rather putrid. Jeff stated that he only saw one person swimming in it, and he (the swimmer, not Jeff) was of questionable character. However, all of this was worth the opportunity to visit with family. My parents joined us in Illinois, plus we had the added bonus of seeing my grandfather, my Auntie Pam, Uncle Frank, cousin Lisa and her family, as well as my cousin, Cheryl. We spent a great deal of time at Lisa's house. She and her husband, Scott, were such gracious hosts. Jeff and I both commented on how agitated we both would be if people made themselves feel this welcome in our home. While there, Justin enjoyed playing with his third cousin, Kaila. Despite the fact that she took a few items from him and threw them down the stairs (she's not a big fan of younger boys), he was excited to see her.

During our stay, we took a trip to the Shedd Aquarium with my parents on a gorgeous Midwestern summer day. The lake was clear, and no one had to strain to see the skyscrapers through the clouds or fog. The aquarium was moderately impressive. However, each of us expressed that it was not exactly what we had expected. Perhaps it was the closure of the Beluga whale exhibit, perhaps it was the mundane dolphin show, or perhaps we all just expected more for our money. Justin had a good time though. He came away a plastic iguana and a stuffed clown fish richer than he started--compliments of Grandma Oloier. The few remaining days were spent visiting with family--once again we crashed Lisa's house--and before we knew it, we were on the road again headed to Kentucky.

For photos from Illinois, Click Here
Kentucky: August 20-23, 2006 (Location 35 on the Map)

We made a 370-mile drive from Chicago to Horse Cave, Kentucky. This was our longest single day’s driving yet, but was manageable due to it being all interstate driving. We stayed at the KOA not far from the entrance to Mammoth Cave National Park. Since summer was winding down and people were getting ready to get the kids back to school, there were only three other parties in camp.

We spent some of the first day driving around the park. I didn’t know what to expect of Kentucky, but I liked this part of it, with its miles of green, rolling hills. We stumbled across an old cemetery dating into the 1800s, and found out later it was one of 80 cemeteries in the park. It would be the first of seemingly dozens of cemeteries we’d see over the next week in Kentucky and Ohio.

That afternoon, while Justin was napping and Susan and I were planning the next few months of the trip, we heard what sounded like tires spinning in the dirt outside. I didn’t think too much of it until I heard it a few more times. I stood up to look out the windows in the cabover area. In the campsite not fifty feet away from us, we saw the following surrounding the van and pickup truck of the couple camping there: three State Police cars, two county Sheriff cars, and five unmarked cars, which we found out later belonged to FBI agents. We watched as uniformed and plainclothes officers cuffed the woman and put her in the car. (The man had already been placed in another car). Then we watched on and off for a couple of hours as detectives with gloves on went through the vehicles, placing items into bags and taking photos. As it turned out, the couple was wanted in a bank robbery in Indiana, and were caught with $20,000 in cash, plus heroin, marijuana, and drug paraphernalia. Most everywhere we’ve camped has been with what appear to be good, “normal” people, but it was a good lesson to keep an eye on the other campers around us from now on.

The next day we took Justin on a two-hour, two-mile guided hike through part of Mammoth Cave. This turned out to be a good experience, even if much of our time was spent keeping an eye on Justin instead of paying attention to the guide. Prior to going underground, Susan was trying anything she could do to get him to poop, knowing that he was due for a dirty diaper, but he kept saying he didn’t need to go. Sure enough, not five minutes after we entered the cave, he pooped. We spent the next two hours at the end of the tour group so no one else but us could smell it. It was dark enough in the cave that we wouldn’t have been able to change him; and besides, there was no where to put the dirty diaper. Kids always make things more interesting.

For photos from Kentucky, Click Here
Ohio: August 23-31, 2006 (Locations 36 and 37 on the Map)

Ohio was mostly about visiting family. Since there were family reunions, and those people in the family reading this already know what happened, and since I’m anxious to get done with this long-winded update, I’ll skip the details about the reunions.

Susan was able to get her third prenatal appointment while we were in Ohio. Getting these appointments has proved challenging, since most doctors don’t want to see an OB patient for just one visit. In this case, the wheels were greased by family connections, and we saw a great doctor. The lab work was normal, and we got to see Justin’s new sibling thrashing about on the ultrasound. Per our instructions, the doctor and her assistant did not disclose the sex of the baby.

After all of the family stuff was taken care of, we moved on to Cuyahoga Valley National Park for a couple of days. This is a newer park (established as a National Park in 2000), and another one that we didn’t know about prior to the trip. After spending our first full day in the RV catching up on letter-writing and sitting out a rain storm, we got to visit the park on our second day. Much of the park follows the river between Akron and Cleveland, where mules used to pull barges up and down the river before trains and other transportation took away their business. The section we saw was more devoted to the natural beauty of the area, with trails through the thick forests and the 300-million-year-old sandstone cliffs. It definitely helped change my opinion of Ohio, which prior to Cuyahoga was all about corn and soybeans.

For photos from Ohio, Click Here

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