We’re Underbilled in Billings

July 31 – August 1, 2017 Billings Village RV Park

Not much to say about this stop. We ended up staying two nights so that we could walk the Rim Rocks Trail. We started near the river and walked up to the trail that overlooks the city. As you can see in the second picture, parts of the trail overlooked industrial sections of town but the very top had lovely views – except for the smoky haze. (We had a lot of haze in Montana and Idaho from fires.)

Things were really crazy when we checked in and the owner only charged us for one night. Since the RV backup was out into the street (literally) and we weren’t really committed to staying more than a day, I let it go. We ended up sticking around to do the walk. It dawned on me as we were leaving that we owed the campground money. (They kept really limited hours.) I got a return call later but the owners didn’t want to take our credit card over the phone and we were already in Butte. Hence the title of this post! The owner was very appreciative that we had made the effort to set things right and let the bill go. 

I really need to also write about our stop at the Little Bighorn National Monument. It was hot and crowded but I can’t tell you how great the Ranger was that gave a Program on the patio about the battle. He was amazing! The story came to life. There isn’t a lot to see at the site – grave markers and memorials but hearing his telling of the battle made the stop more than worthwhile. 

Next stop: Butte, MT


Devils Tower National Monument

July 30, 2017 Mountain View Campground

We made a quick stop outside of Sundance, WY with the plan to visit Devils Tower National Monument. Rather than waiting until the morning, we headed right out in the afternoon. That was a great decision! There were still a lot of people when we first arrived but they soon cleared out and we had the trail to ourselves. 

We ended up on the back side of the Tower at sunset. 

We stayed for a Ranger Program in the campground and learned a bunch of stuff about the geology and even more about climbing the tower. The craziest thing is that they climb it at night! 

I’m trying to catch up on posts so they will be short and sweet for a while!

Next stop: Billings, MT

Badlands National Park

July 27-29, 2017

We had previously visited the Badlands but only from the road! This time we had the opportunity to get on to a trail before getting back on the road. 

Our first day, we did several short hikes, including out to The Notch Trail which had the absolute best set of stairs.

The views from the Scenic Drive were great, too.

There were bighorn sheep and prairie dogs.

The views were fabulous, even if you didn’t get far off the road. 

We got up early and made it on to the Castle Trail before it got hot. The early rise was totally worth it!

Next stop: Devils Tower National Monument

Pipestone National Monument

July 25-26, 2017

As you can see from the date, I’ve gotten behind on blog posts. Honestly, we are going through a little travel fatigue and that means blogging fatigue as well. We’ve been on the road since May 26th, driven 4379 miles, and stayed at 26 different places. We can’t really turn back towards home at this point – we have reservations in Yellowstone for the end of August and we both would really like to see Crater Lake National Park and Pinnacles National Park. That will take us until probably around mid-September and then there is 3,000 miles to get home.

So, to help with the fatigue, we opted for a couple of do-nothing days. Camping in this area has been pretty tough (aka expensive and limited) – we are on the route to Yellowstone and Glacier, along I-90. We ended up in Butte, MT at the KOA. I spent one whole day sewing and another day sewing after a short walk. Yesterday, we walked 12 miles. We are leaving today for Idaho where we take another “down” day in Idaho Falls.

Now, back to July … and Pipestone National Monument. You can follow the link and read all about this interesting place where the Native Americans have been quarrying the red rock they use to make pipes for ages (and still do today.) There was a nice nature trail through the quarries and a lovely little museum with Native Americans shaping the stone in person.

On our way to Pipestone, we stopped at the Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD. They change the corn murals each year for a different theme and this year was Music. Who could pass up a picture of Willy Nelson or Elvis made out of corn?

They had the largest gift shop set up for the summer on the basketball court inside the building … 

Alan got to grind some corn the old fashioned way:

We haven’t necessarily been doing long driving days but we have been trying to make a few stops and get out for a little walk. Corn Palace was one and we also checked out the giant Indian woman statue with a Star Quilt. Even if we weren’t ready for a stop, we wouldn’t have passed up a 50-foot tall roadside attraction!

Oh, I almost forgot … We were entertained by a rafter of turkeys at Pipestone as we were leaving. I haven’t edited the video so you will just have to trust me that it was hysterical when this bunch gobbled on their way to cross the road and block traffic.

I did also find some cool old stone stairs on the nature trail in Pipestone.

Next Stop: Badlands National Park

Fording the Missippi River

We had beautiful weather in Minnesota yesterday – sunny and warm but not too hot. We figured that is all we needed to ford The Great River. First, we walked two miles to get to a good crossing point. Then, we had to avoid the rushing torrent of toddlers.  It took great focus, strength and determination to keep from getting our feet wet as we crossed The Missippi River at the headwaters just as it leaves Lake Itasca.

Alan made the journey first.

Following closely in his footsteps, I then crossed the Great River with only a pause to chat with a 2-year old in my path.

The Great Missippi River was a beautiful stream with a pebbly bottom – no mud, no dams, no barges but there was a boardwalk so you could enjoy it.

We spent the rest of the day recovering  walking the rest of the hilly bike trail and ended up with just a little shy of 12 miles for the day. I’m feeling those hills today. Everyone on the bike trail were super friendly! Minnesota has definitely been a great place to visit.

We did stop at Preachers Grove to see the stand of old growth pine.

If they had been cut down, this is how they would have been hauled – The Logging Sled:

We leave Itasca State Park today for Pipestone National Monument. We’ve got to travel 250 miles today so time to get on the road!

A Walk to Canada

Since we had the extra time in International Falls, we decided to walk to Canada. It was only about 2 miles from our little campground and there was a Mr. Sub on the other side for lunch. We just walked across the bridge and through customs. They were all set up to handle pedestrians.  

See the little stake in the rock – that’s the border. 

There was a nice river walk on the Canadian side and we climbed a rickety old watch tower to check out the view. The stairs were steep, narrow and open so it was a little freaky! The view was nice, though. 

Supposedly, they only stopped moving logs down this river by tugboat in the 70’s. I suspect the view wasn’t great then and you definitely wouldn’t have any real fishing with a tournament.

We arrived at Itasca State Park yesterday. It is really nice – friendly people, clean campsites and a lot of kids just having a good time. We took a little walk on the bike path down to Peace Pipe Overlook.

It wasn’t even crazy buggy so we walked back part of the way on one of the trails along the lake.

Next up: Our journey that started in St. Louis and took us up The Great River Road from Missouri, through Illinois, Iowa, a little of Wisconsin (I think), and mostly Minnesota comes to an end at the Headwaters of the Missippi River.

Voyageurs National Park

You really need a boat to enjoy this Park! You also really need a camera with a big lense to get any good photos! 

We took the NPS boat tour to Kettle Falls and were rewarded with a lot of eagles and a few loons. It was a nice trip in a comfortable boat with a Park Ranger to help you understand what you were seeing. Unfortunately, my photos don’t do it justice at all. This was the first time in a long time that I wished I had brought our real camera (and I found out later that Alan did pack it and it was sitting in the truck. Bummer.)

Can you find the eagle?

How about the loon chick?

Our destination for lunch was the Kettle Falls Hotel.

It was in very bad shape when the Park Service took it over from the original owners. They fixed the foundations but reconstructed the bar with it’s very sloped floors for historic authenticity.

There was one very hardworking waitress working the whole place! We got served fine but by the time we left this porch was crammed with people waiting to eat. There isn’t any other place to go if you are tired of fishing. They will fry up your own fresh caught Walleye. I’m thinking I should of had fish instead of a club sandwich to get the best experience.

We did see a few of the other homes and resorts that were in the Park before it was a National Park. Here is an old ice house the owners built from lumber that had sunk in their bay. This whole area was heavily timbered in the past. There was so many logs coming through the area that they dammed Kettle Falls to allow for easier passage. The dam is still in place today. The Kettle Falls Hotel was originally constructed to house the workers who were building the dam.

On the way back to the Kabetogama Visitor Center, we saw one more eagle’s nest. This one was interesting because we had seen photos of a climber in the tree grabbing a baby eagle for banding! The Park Service estimates that there are about 50 active nests in Voyageurs National Park. This is an amazing recovery for an endangered species.

Next stop: We have no idea! We’ve already spent a lot of time in North and South Dakota so we are thinking that we will stay here a few more days to get through the weekend and then head South. First to Itasca State Park to see the headwaters of the Missippi River and then turn towards Badlands National Park. We drove through there already but it might be nice to stay and explore a little while.

We couldn’t leave International Falls, MN without a picture of the big Smokey Bear with his cubs.


Once we started planning our next stop, it worked out that we would stick around here through the weekend. We want to finish our tour of the Mississippi River with a visit to Itasca State Park and see the headwaters. They were booked through the weekend so despite the hassle of having to move campsites, we are going to stay in International Falls until Sunday. That meant we had another day to go hike around Voyageurs, check out the other two visitor centers and maybe find some blueberries.

The Kabetogama Lake Overlook Trail at the Ash River Visitor Center was excellent. Beautiful views of the lake and plenty of blueberries.

We also took the short hike out to Sullivan Bay. It was early evening and the boats were all heading in for the night. Beautiful view from a rock outcropping.

Last stop was Beaver Pond. We should have made this our first since it had the best blueberries (but no beavers.)

Our first hike had been at The Rainy Lake Visitor Center – the Oberholtzer Trail. There were a few raspberries but the views weren’t nearly as nice as our later excursions. We watched a pair of loons for a while hoping to hear them call to each other but they were too busy diving for dinner.

We went to dinner at Almost Lindy’s Swill and Grill for a second night. The pierogi pizza was excellent. We passed this guy on the way:

Next stop: Itasca State Park

Soudan Mine

We detoured on our way to Voyageurs National Park to see the Soudan Underground Mine. The campground at the adjacent Vermillion Lake State Park wasn’t open yet so we camped at the nearby Bear Head Lake State Park. We learned that it isn’t always a great idea to go without hookups – the sites are not necessarily designed to get a 25′ trailer backed in. No damage but it was a tight squeeze. 

This is a very deep iron mine that was considered the Cadillac of mines when it was operating. The area was mined as early as 1884 in an open pit. The operation was totally underground by 1892. It closed in 1962 and was donated to the state by US Steel.

I will admit that the ride down the shaft was a little freaky. You are going down at a slight angle for a half-mile, traveling at around 10 mph (which seemed very fast in a rickety car.) They are still using the original machinery to winch you up and down.

Once at the bottom, we rode close to a mile to get to the last area that was actively mined. We’ve toured a lot of mines but I think this was the first one where they break the iron loose from overhead (called the back) and then push it though a hole in the floor before shoveling it up and hauling it back to the same shaft we used.

The ore gets hauled to the Crusher House and then dumped into rail cars that takes it to the loading docks (like the ones we have seen in Duluth and Two Harbors) on Lake Superior and into a freight hauler like the William A. Irvin. 

There had been a physics lab operated by the University of Minnesota constructed at the bottom of the mine for research but it is no longer in use. There aren’t any stairs in an iron mine but we did find these in the Crusher House. 

Next stop: Voyageurs National Park

Grand Portage National Monument

We had an extra day in Grand Portage, MN. I planned on sewing for most of the day but before that we made the short drive to Grand Portage National Monument. This is a reproduction of one of the largest and busiest Forts during the fur trade. We saw a lot of similar Forts when we were in Canada but still enjoyed this visit. The “living history” was excellent and the movie was by far one of the best we’ve experienced at a National Park or National Monument.

The birch bark canoe was key to the fur trade – sturdy but lightweight so you could carry it where there was no navigable water. 

One of the obstacles included the Pigeon River Falls. One of the interpreters suggested we visit the falls and we did the next morning (despite that it meant driving in the wrong direction for six miles but it really shouldn’t matter considering we’ve already driven more than 3,000 miles and not gotten very far across the country!)

The volunteers and rangers at the National Monument were all very enthusiastic and knowledgeable.

This National Monument is jointly operated with the local tribe, the Ojibwa, and is on the Reservation. It all works well since the Fort and fur trade were very important to the Ojibwa people for a long time until the Fort operations were moved north after the border between the US and Britain was set at the Pigeon River.

We continued South along the Lake Superior shoreline and made a brief stop at Grand Marais. It was a lovely little village where we planned on lunch at the Subway but it turns out that it was closed on Sunday! Yes, closed! We had to eat lunch in the trailer of the Subway parking lot. 

Next stop: Soudan Mine

Isle Royale National Park

I had pretty much given up on the possibility that we would get to Isle Royale National Park. It is one of the 59 National Parks that just didn’t seem accessible for us.  It is a long boat ride from Michigan and we couldn’t get the trailer out there to stay overnight! Well, it turns out it is very doable from Minnesota. We had less than a 2 hour boat ride each way and got to spend about 4 hours on the Island. 

You can’t see much of the Island in that amount of time but we did opt to take a 6-1/2 mile round trip hike on Minong Ridge that left us on the trail all alone. (There are a few other shorter hikes and most of the day visitors chose those.) We got to a beautiful vista where you could see Pie Island and Canada in the distance. 

Our wildlife viewing was limited to a lot of moose prints and the work of some very ambitious beavers.

On the boat ride out to the Island we stopped at a very old cedar tree that the Ojibwa consider sacred – The Witch Tree.

The coolest part of the boat ride was definitely the SS Americana – a steamship that sunk in the early part of the century.  We were just floating on the water and the next thing you know it appears out of nowhere!

On the way back to Minnesota, we went by the Rock of Ages Lighthouse. It is still in operation today.

It has been brought up to date with modern equipment and no longer uses the original Fresnel Lense so that is now at the Windigo Visitor Center. The Lighthouse had been manned year round but now it runs on solar doesn’t need a Keeper. 

We had remarkably good weather for the day but this was how it looked on the back of the boat going home.

No stairs to wrap up with today – instead a highly stylized and edited photo of the Lighthouse and a cool bridge. It would have been nice to have a few more wooden “bridges” with all the mud we sloshed through on Isle Royale but I’m not complaining. 

Next up: Grand Portage National Monument