Our Boomerang Trip – Part I

I can’t believe it’s September already.  It seems like just yesterday when I was in the planning stages for our Midwestern excursion.  And here we are, it’s the middle of September and I’m back in Colorado where we started six weeks ago.  It was pretty much an out and back trip….  Kind of like mimicking a boomerang one might say.

Let’s do a quick recap of the first part of our trip…..  We pulled out of Cherry Creek State Park (Denver) at the end of July and after a quick overnight in a Cabela’s parking lot in Omaha, Nebraska, (forgot to add this stop on the above map – oops) we arrived at Starved Rock State Park.  We took in a couple of days exploring this interesting Illinois State Park before driving up to the Paul Wolff Endangered CranesCampground.  I loved the location of this county park.  It was an easy 20 minute drive to my dad’s place which allowed us to visit with him often, and if we had wanted to take the train into Chicago, the train station was only 5 minutes away.

From our Elgin location, we moved over to Rockton, Illinois, where we stayed at Al’s sister’s place for a wonderful ten-day visit.  After Rockton, our next destination was Baraboo, Wisconsin.  I was thrilled with the hiking at Devil’s Lake State Park, but the highlight of this stop was my visit to the International Crane Foundation.

Green Bay PackersAfter communing with cranes it was time to commune with friends in Marshfield, Wisconsin, where I was challenged to wear a Packers Jersey.

After my momentary lapse, we moved over to Algoma, Wisconsin, along the shores of Lake Michigan.  This is where I discovered Door County and its magnetic personality.  Quite frankly, I fell in love with the area and could’ve stayed a month.  I can imagine the fall colors around here to be stunning and worth sticking around for.

Algoma, WI
Camped in Algoma, WI. The marina on one side and Lake Michigan on the other. Loved camping on this peninsula with water on 3 sides. Sunrise Cove Marina and Campground was basically a gravel lot with electric hook-up and thus merely ok, but the location was great; waterfront & walking distance to town.

As much as we considered hanging around Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula for a little leaf peeping, we decided to turn the RV around and head back west to assist our daughter with a project.

Foggy morning
Early morning fog as we drive through Wisconsin

So with Plan B in mind…. It was time to say good-bye to the Midwest and mosey in a westerly direction.  The morning of August 27th started off foggy as we began our journey west.  We put in an eight-hour travel day (360 miles – 574 km) that first day, crossing the entire state of Wisconsin and part of Minnesota.

We enjoyed driving some back country roads but sure hoped this bridge was high enough. No height was specified and an RV crew cut was NOT part of our plans. Fortunately, we did see a tall truck pass under first.

We stopped frequently and even enjoyed a road side picnic near Necedah, Wisconsin.Ship Rock Wisconsin

By dinner time that first day, we checked into a campsite at Myre-Big Island State Park, near Albert Lea, Minnesota.  This is a heavily wooded state park and even though they market the White Fox Campground loop as the prairie loop, it is in no way situated in a prairie.

Albert Lea Minnesota
Myre-Big Island State Park. We’re camped in site 55 White Fox CG loop.
Albert Lea Lake
After an eight-hour day in the truck, it felt good to stretch the legs and check out the trails
Albert Lea Lake
Albert Lea Lake – it was disappointing that there were no trails with access to the water’s edge.

We originally intended to relax and spend two nights at this state park, but it was raining when we set up.  It continued to rain all night and was expected to not let up for another day.  So we hit the road early the next morning, wearing rain gear as we broke camp, and drove through the rest of Minnesota in a consistent and steady stream of rain.Minnesota

A few miles into South Dakota, the rain stopped.  We encountered sunny skies with a hint of haze caused by the wildfires in the Pacific Northwest.  Just in time for a late lunch, we set up camp in the Cabela’s parking lot in Mitchell, South Dakota.

We’re parked in the distance at the Cabela’s in Mitchell, South Dakota

Cabela’s had a HUGE area for RV’s.  The semi-trucks seemed to be parked off in another lot and there was even a separate area for equestrians complete with horse corrals.  This turned out to be a great place to overnight, complete with pond.

The smoke from the wildfires gave the sky an interesting hue at sunrise.
Although overnighting at a Cabela’s is free – we always manage to find something to buy.

Next stop; South Dakota’s Badlands and Black HillsBadlands
The Next Exit 2015: The Most Complete Interstate Hwy Guide
I Don’t Need Google My Wife Knows Everything Funny T-Shirt By A2S – White – X-Large


Boundary Waters

This trip back to the midwest conjures up memories…..some very fond memories.  Al and I have always enjoyed the outdoors.  We even had an outdoor wedding, complete with horse and carriage, but I’ll save that story for another post.

Boundary Waters Canoe Area
Al as he portages canoe around rapids

During the early years of our relationship Al worked as a Commerical Airline Pilot and I a Flight Attendant (yes, we met at work, go figure).  More than half our time was spent in airplanes, hotels, eating in restaurants, and living by the clock.  So when it came time to recreate, we wanted nothing to do with planes, hotels, restaurants or clocks.  Thus, we discovered the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.  The BWCA is located in northeastern Minnesota located within the Superior National Forest and encompasses more than 1,000,000 acres.  This wilderness area also expands into Canada and is known as Quetico Provincial Park.

one of our campsites

What is unique about the BWCA is it’s natural, untouched beauty.  The “wilderness act” restricts logging, mining, and most motorized access.  No motorized access means no boat motors, no roads for vehicles, and no float planes allowed.  Therefore access to this pristine land is restricted to hiking and canoeing.  There are over 1200 miles of canoe routes and 2000+ designated remote campsites.  Camping is restricted to these campsites and are clearly recognizable by the Forest Service fire rings.  Maps are a must.  Don’t count on a GPS. Maps will help find portages, trails, and campsites.

daughter sits on floor in front of me, then son, dog between son and Al – family affair

Every summer Al and I looked forward to our two weeks vacation in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, and that did not change once we had children.  The kids just went along and had a great time.  Some years we tented it and other years we would splurge and rent a cabin at one of many resorts available, especially when the children were young.  Even on those years we rented a cabin, we would still do a one or two night tent excursion into the wilderness.

Al and 4 year old son head out on a three day
camping and fishing trip into the wilderness.
son proud of his catch

After many visits at varying times of the year, we discovered the end of July, beginning of August was most enjoyable for us.  The mosquitos were the worst in June.  However, in July we did have to deal with those pesky biting deer flies….still preferable to the mosquitos.  September can be beautiful and the fishing good, but be ready for any kind of weather, after all this is northern Minnesota.

The end of July is also blueberry season.  Yummmm……blueberry pancakes become a regular staple.  Our first Brittany Spaniel, Dallas, always accompanied us on our blueberry picking mission with bells on her collar.  Ya see, black bears love blueberries, but they don’t like dogs.  Dallas camped, hiked and canoed everywhere with us.  We put bells on her collar so Al and I could keep track of her while she ran around the dense woods.  The second purpose; so she wouldn’t accidentally startle a bear or other wildlife.

daughter – last month she graduated
from CSU – my how time flies!

The two main communities with visitor services near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area are Ely and Grand Marais, Minnesota.  We always went to Grand Marais and up the Gunflint Trail.  FYI….the drive from Duluth, Minnesota to Grand Marais, Minnesota should be savored.  The scenery along Lake Superior is beautiful ….. lighthouses, waterfalls, cliffs and rock.  Allow plenty of time for stops along the way.  We so loved the Gunflint Trail, we returned year after year even though we had intentions of exploring the Ely area.  Somehow there was never enough time for both.

Ah, yes what fond memories.  As Al and I swap stories, a family member asks, “What’s so special about the BWCA?”  Well, there’s lot’s of things that make BWCA special, but first; the BWCA is a place visitors can canoe, portage, and camp in the spirit of the French voyageurs of 200 years ago.  It’s quiet, remote, and wild.  The lush, dense forest and crisp, clean waters are like no other place I’ve visited.  I’ll keep looking though 🙂  Oh, how that bucket list grows!