Wednesday, September 21, 2016

GTT Days 50-52

September 19 - Blue Mounds State Park, Minnesota.
It was a long long drive diagonally across Minnesota mostly on a small two-lane highway. It was even longer because there were two closed sections of the road that we had to take big detours around. We got to see even more of the nearly endless Minnesota farmlands than we planned! However we also went to Pipestone National Monument, only a half-hour or so before our planned campground. It was really interesting. This is an area with a layer of a beautiful red stone that was discovered by Native Americans hundreds of years ago. It's relatively easy to work and was traditionally used for making ceremonial pipes. On top of the stone are a number of layers of very hard Sioux quartzite which is also very pretty and has been used in more recent years for building. To get to the pipestone, the quartzite has to be removed laboriously by hand. We went on a walking tour of the site to see some of the quarries:
It's a sacred place and only the tribes can dig for the stone. The walk also included a lovely little waterfall:
And cliffs of Sioux quartzite with really decorative lichens growing on them:
I particularly loved this stone stairway to the top of the waterfall:
The display centre had an area where artisans worked on pipestone pieces and I bought a turtle button which I'll have to show you later since it's all wrapped up and put away. They show a really informative film on the pipestone and it's significance to the aboriginal people too. Well done.
Not so well done was our experience at Blue Mounds. It was quite late by the time we got there and there was nobody there. Signs said they want you to reserve 3 days ahead by phone or Internet. What? We just stuffed the requisite fee in the envelope and took a spot! Any spot. They had shut off the water except for the toilets because of E. coli, we never saw the bison at all and we were nearly eaten alive by tiny little biting gnats that insisted on working their way around our bug screens. Bleh. Not nearly as nice as we remembered from our last visit 3 years ago. 
We also had a couple of mechanical issues for Thom to solve. The other headlight went (the first one died in Nova Scotia) and the water pump on the sink refused to work. We had found a NAPA store in St. Cloud for the replacement light so after fixing that quickly Thom was left to fiddle with the water system. Luckily his Magic Touch worked and we have water access again.
Wildlife viewed:  deer (we nearly hit one!)
September 20 - Badlands National Park, South Dakota.
Another long drive but this time on an Interstate freeway. Boring! But quicker. We are now in our 8th state and crossed another time zone into Mountain Time. It finally feels like the West! Badlands is incredibly beautiful in an otherworldly sort of way:
It was also very hot and windy so we spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing in the shade. Too hot for hiking trails for us! I nearly burned my hand just opening the door of the Ladies washroom. Ouch.
September 21 - Badlands, Day 2.
We had a second day to explore Badlands and were surprised to wake up to clouds and much cooler weather. That meant that we could take our time and not have to rush to hike before it got too hot. We drove along the scenic road down the length of the park and then turned around at the west gate and stopped at many of the overlooks on the way back:
Photos just can't convey the incredible beauty of the worn layers. My favourite part is Yellow Mounds:
The layers shade from bright yellow at the bottom to red and then to the more subtle greys toward the top. We also got stopped several times along the road by these guys:
Excuse the imperfect through-the-window shots. Why do I always end up with sheep butts instead of faces? Don't answer that...
We also saw pronghorns and deer and possibly bison in the distance. Could have just been cows though. We have yet to see bison up close this trip. The mourning doves, meadowlarks and bluebirds are keeping us entertained in the campsite too.
As for our hike, besides the short Fossil Trail we only did part of the Castle Trail this time:
It's a game of Follow-The-Red-Trail-Markers since it's not always easy to see where people have walked before you. Even just the little ways we went was very cool:
Instead of viewing the pinnacles from afar you get to walk among them:
It was perfect to go with the cooler cloud cover. Good thing it didn't decide to rain though! 
Tomorrow it's off to the Black Hills.  

Sunday, September 18, 2016

GTT 48-49

September 17 - Lake Gogebic State Park, Michigan Upper Penninsula. 
It was still dark when we left Brimley at 6:30am. We ran into the usual early morning patches of fog too. The Upper Penninsula is really quite lovely and the trees are actually starting to turn giving us a hint of the glorious fall colours that we won't be around to see. We stopped at a rest area on the Agate River that had a short trail to a waterfall. But I liked the underside of the old train trestle better:

I couldn't quite capture the interesting rust though.
Lake Gogebic is much further west than Soo and just over the time zone into Central so we actually gained one of our lost hours back. It's a big lake:
We walked the forest trail across the road from the campground but it was very muddy and not particularly photogenic. Anyway I was too busy trying not to go splat! We had to wash our footwear off at the water tap when we got back. The weather finally decided to stop sprinkling on us then so after a shower we relaxed and watched the lake and the falling leaves for the rest of the evening. Just before we went to sleep the full moon came up over the lake. It was so incredible but I just couldn't get a photo of the effect. In the morning the sunrise was in the exact same place. It was a really special view from that campsite.
September 18 - St. Croix State Park, Minnesota.
Another morning's drive with patchy fog but it soon cleared up and became a lovely day. We drove on side roads through tiny towns and lots of forest into Wisconsin and across to our 7th state, Minnesota. The St. Croix River is right on the border between the two states and is a National Scenic Riverway. We only had time to see a very little bit of it:
As well as canoeing there's lots of trails in this park, many of them multi-use for bikes, horses and hiking. We walked a short way along the bank of the river and then back along the bluff.
Wildlife viewed in the last few days:  white-tailed deer, many wild turkeys, sandhill cranes, a coyote, a bald eagle and an osprey.
We found unadvertised wifi in the park store. As always we have no idea when we'll find it again! Tomorrow we'll cross Minnesota diagonally down to the southwest corner. Another step closer to home.  

GTT Days 45-47

September 14 - Algonquin Provincial Park, ON.
I know I had some issues with the last post that I sent from the satellite wifi at the visitors centre in Algonquin. Sorry the spacing wasn't better but I can't fix it now. It is what it is!
Speaking of Algonquin, it's a beautiful park, the oldest provincial park in Ontario:
From the deck at the visitors centre. You can see that there's actually a hint of fall colour here! We checked out the excellent displays in the centre which included the natural habitat and the history of the park. It turned out that several of the campgrounds were closed but we ended up at one near the centre just off Highway 60. Our campsite was very close to a large lake but we couldn't see it for the trees! Oh well. It was quite late at this point so we just had dinner and gave up any attempt to explore further.
September 15 - Chutes Provincial Park, ON.
Now this park has everything we like: this time of year it's nearly empty, with a reasonable-length trail, waterfalls, bridges and hot showers. Perfect! The river was historically used to bring lumber down to Lake Huron - hence the "chutes". They are long-gone but the lovely waterfalls remain:
The Twin Bridges trail takes you over a couple of the falls and platforms give you great views from different angles. We enjoyed walking the trail and viewing the autumn forest and colourful mushrooms. We were pleasantly tired when we got back to camp.   September 16 - Brimley State Park, Upper Penninsula, Michigan.
Well, we discovered that we were nearly out of propane for the stove so that was a top priority of the day. It's not that easy to get it filled since it needs an auto-propane system and someone who is willing to lie on the ground underneath to connect it! Thom always makes sure to tip the person really well afterward for their efforts. We saw a sign on the highway near Sault Ste. Marie for a service station that filled RV propane so even though it was a kilometre off our route we decided to take it. Good thing we did because we haven't seen an appropriate vendor since! Now we're good for the rest of the trip.
We crossed the bridge between the "Soos" and got a great view of the St. Lawrence Seaway locks that allow the boats to move from Lake Huron to Lake Superior and vice versa. Right after that we went through US customs again without a hitch. We have decided that our enhanced driver's licence/ID that we got before we left home works much better than passports do. If they have it, you can wave your cards at the reader before you pull up to the customs officer and he has all the data on you already on his screen. It includes a lot more information than your passport has. As always we were careful not to have any meat or fruit or veggies on the banned list. So of course that meant we had to go grocery shopping. Luckily I had written out the directions for the supermarket in the US Soo and also the way from there to the state park.
We were a bit surprised that it's actually quite busy here. And we got a walk in along the long sandy beach at the edge of Lake Superior at Whitefish Bay:
We went beyond the park boundaries but there's no problem if you keep to the beach and don't trespass on private property. The water is very shallow and quite warm still. Nobody was swimming though!
Now at supper time the weather has changed and it's pouring rain on us. Thom left the awning partly out so we can leave the window open tonight. Tomorrow it's off to explore more of the Upper Penninsula. Continuing west. No matter what the weather we're on the homeward run.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

GTT Days 41-44

September 10 - Acadia National Park, Maine, Blackwoods campground.
We left Fundy in drifts of fog but with a gorgeous red sunrise behind us. The road led us to the main highway that went past the city of St. John and down to St. Stephen where we crossed quickly and uneventfully into Maine. The roads were pretty quiet this early on a Saturday morning, at least until we got to Ellsworth, the nearest town to Acadia. Then it got very busy especially since some of the main roads in town were being replaced. Road work! We get stuck somewhere several times every single damn day.
We were very low on supplies so we picked up a bunch in town before heading down to Mount Desert Island, through Bar Harbor and south to our campsite. Luckily we had reserved 2 nights before we left home because it was full! After getting settled we walked down the trail to the park's scenic loop road to see the view:
We had a good time watching the diving ducks and the endless beauty of the waves. That was about it for our first day in Acadia.
September 11 - Acadia NP, day 2.
Today dawned rather hot and sticky but overcast. It had rained a little in the night too. We decided to take advantage of the free shuttle bus and take it into town. Bar Harbor is your classic seaside tourist town. Streets of cute little shops flogging souvenirs and food:
Plus picturesque hotels and B & B's. Here's the schooner Margaret Todd that was tied up to the dock plus a cruise ship that was anchored out:
You can see what the weather looked like, can't you? Not nearly as nice as yesterday.   
We were determined to have something with lobster for lunch so we went to the same place we ate at last time we were here:
It was very windy so we sat in the covered deck area. I had a lobster Cobb salad:
And Thom had a lobster roll:
Plus he had a beer and I had the most delicious margarita. Big yum!!
By that time we had walked all over town, stuffed ourselves silly and were waddling back to the bus. Luckily it was waiting at the stop because just as we got inside the heavens opened and thunder and lightning flashed! One flash hit the lightning rod on the top of the fire station right across the street from us. Yikes! I jumped about a foot and let out a squeak it was so loud! The bus driver complained that his seat was wet because he took too long to shut his window and several people who were waiting for a different bus came in to get out of the rain. It didn't last long however. By the time we got down the road to Sieur de Mont it was only sprinkling. 
Sadly the museum and the nature centre at Sieur de Mont were closed but we enjoyed the garden very much. All the plants are native to Mount Desert Island and each one is labelled, just the way I like it:
Everything was wet and very green:  
I love identifying everything! Then we caught the bus the rest of the way back to camp. It takes the scenic tour around part of the loop road first which gave us some nice scenery to ogle. We found the bus system very easy to use, the drivers friendly and helpful, and even though they have regular stops they will also pick you up or drop you off wherever you want on their route as long as it's safe to do so. Not bad for a free service! Sure saved us trying to find parking in the busy town anyway. Two thumbs up.   Since we had been to Acadia in 2013 and stayed longer then, we had already seen all the sights and weren't unhappy that we didn't get to see as much this time. Apparently it's one of the most visited national parks in the US and I can't imagine how crazy it must be in July and August.   September 12 - New Discovery State Park, Vermont.
Today was a long drive so we got up even earlier than usual and hightailed it out. We had to cross all of Maine and New Hampshire plus part of Vermont before we got to this gem of a park in the Groton National Forest. The park guy, Don, actually remembered us from 3 years ago! Of course he was a big help that time with our bad oil change problem and finding another shop to change to the proper weight of oil. He was glad we had made it home safely and very happy to see us again. How sweet!
This time it wasn't raining and we weren't all stressed out with car trouble so we were able to hike the trail around the lake:
Can you see that the trees are just starting to turn? They're going to be spectacular in a couple of weeks or so but sadly we can't wait around that long! The trail was quite a challenge, covered in roots and glacially smoothed rocks but we made it all the way. I loved this plant:
I have no idea what it is but the leaves are quite large and it seems to be quite common. Anybody know?
September 13 - Voyageur Provincial Park, ON.
This was another one of our multi-state/multi-province jumps. We started in Vermont with another morning of sunshine and drifting fog. So pretty! We crossed to the western edge of the state and then north across the Lake Champlain Islands. The road crosses a series of causeways and bridges linking several of the large islands together. It was a really lovely drive and we were glad we went that way even though it was slower than taking freeways all the way. At the top of the island chain we turned west into the very top corner of New York and crossed over the border into Quebec at a little side road. Once we got back to the freeway though it was big roads all the rest of the way, sneaking south of Montreal and heading over the toll bridge on the St. Lawrence and up to the Ottawa River. Our campground is just inside the corner of Ontario and overlooks a small bay in the river:
We watched a boat dredging back and forth across our bay in front of us and found out they were scraping off the tops of an invasive European water chestnut species. Only diligent work has kept it from taking over the waterways.
Then we went for a walk. Some of the trail is mowed grass and some is in the deep forest. In winter it's all cross-country ski trails. We surprised a lot of these on the grassy part of the trail:
Can you see the frog? It's a big one, larger than the palm of my hand, but it blends in pretty nicely. We also walked over the boardwalk in the marshy part:
It would be even prettier if we weren't being munched by mosquitos while we were trying to enjoy the view. Not surprisingly we ended up sitting in the van with all the netting up when we got back to camp.
Tomorrow it's off through Ottawa to Algonquin Park and maybe some wifi to send this with at the Visitors Centre. My fingers are crossed.  

Friday, September 09, 2016

GTT Days 39-40

September 8 - Five Islands Provincial Park, Nova Scotia.
The wind picked up really strongly in the night at Corney Brook, Cape Breton Highlands NP. Again we ended up closing the van's poptop in the wee hours just so we could sleep for a few more hours without the "fwomp" going on. The wind was strong enough to blow out the corner of the driver's side window bug screen, shifting several of the really strong earth magnets. You never know what the weather will throw at you!
Today was a long trip down the west side of Cape Breton, past Cheticamp and Mabou (home of the Rankin Family) and back over the Canso Causeway. We had to look for a Napa auto parts store online at a Timmy's in Antigonish and found an easy-to-get-to one in New Glasgow. Our left headlight was out and even though we don't really travel in the dark, the sun will be rising later as we travel west. Luckily we found it and they had the part in stock! Whew. Thom was able to install it himself too.
We headed further west still, past the city of Truro and all the way along the north edge of the Minas Basin. This area has some of the highest tides in the world. When we got to Five Islands, we had a high campsite with a fabulous view:
The low tide was just starting to come back in. After we got settled we hiked down to the beach:
That's Moose Island there. And the super-high tide affects the river too:
Can you imagine that the spit that Thom is walking on is completely under water at high tide? Wow.
The one drawback to our lovely campsite was the mosquitos which were very very bad! They bit me at least a dozen times right through the sheet in the middle of the night. Even though we thought we had them blocked out and the stragglers eliminated, we ended up putting on the light and chasing down 4 or 5 of the beasts before we could get back to sleep. Ugh. And they didn't let up in the morning either! We had to pack quickly and drive away to avoid filling the van up again with the bloodsuckers. Double-ugh. Guess I'm just too delicious, huh?
September 9 - Fundy National Park, New Brunswick.
When we escaped the probosces of the mozzies we drove up to Amherst, NS, and over to New Brunswick. We followed the "lighthouse" trail on the map up the east side of the Peticodiac Bay and into Dieppe/Moncton and around the west side and down again. Our first stop was a wildlife sanctuary trail system for a breakfast stop but there wasn't a view and there were more mosquitos. At least there was a Port-O-Pottie! The next stop after dancing among the highways in Moncton was the Hopewell Rocks. We visited here the last time in 2013 and this time we got there before noon when the tide was low and perfect for exploring:
The rocks (also called "flowerpots") are sea stacks of harder rock dug out from softer rock by waves over millennia. They are very cool but the many people and the ubiquitous yellow danger signs get in the way of good photos! One more:
Yup. Just more of my rock fetish here!
Afterwards we followed the "lighthouse" trail further down the coast. We ran into serious fog at Cape Enrage, which of course enraged us as well. Heh. It disappeared as we went further south again and we pressed on to Fundy NP where we got a nice campsite with, gasp, wifi! Yay. And a comfort station with laundry and hot water on tap. We would have taken more walks and taking more photos but instead we spent the afternoon doing loads of laundry and cleaning out the van. Again. We're back with the soggy socks hanging everywhere again, a la Kouchibouguac. Feels good to be cleaned up though and smelling a little less pungent than we were. The pervasive damp and lack of easy fresh water gets a bit tedious at times. We've been living in our little van for well over a month now. You get the picture. At least we've had frequent showers. Tomorrow it's on to the Canada/US border crossing. Don't want to aggravate the touchy border guards with anything negative now, do we? Nope. We're just an old retired couple heading home...
It's hard to say how much wifi I'm going to be able to access in the next few weeks. We'll be in the US for a couple of days, back into Quebec and Ontario for a few more and then back to the US for the rest of the trip before coming home. I'll keep writing posts but who knows when I'll be able to post them? It's a challenge! Though sometimes I find wifi in unexpected places. Stay tuned.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

GTT Days 37-38

September 6 - Cape Breton Highlands National Park, Ingonish Beach campground.
Well, I wasn't able to send my last post at the ferry terminal in Argentia. The wifi suddenly decided not to connect anymore. Grrrr...
Anyway, here's our ferry, Atlantic Vision:
It's a biggie! The ferry ride was a long one. We started loading at 3:30pm and finally left at 5pm. We had a nice little 2-berth stateroom so we stashed everything in there and then headed for the bar area for a Quidi Vidi Iceberg beer. At least this boat didn't stink like Highlanders did! Atlantic Vision is a much nicer vessel but definitely geared for overnight passengers. Anyway, after we got underway and finished our beer we had dinner in the a la carte restaurant, Flowers. There's also a buffet but we decided that it was too busy. Flowers was a great choice since we got a great table by the window and had a nice meal and bottle of wine with attentive service.
Here's our teensy little room with a perfectly teensy little bathroom that even included a shower! I wanted to take the bathroom along with us but unfortunately it wasn't detachable. Sigh. This wee space even has a desk, tv, closet and a hairdryer. Amazing what you can fit in when you try. We made good use of the electrical plugs to charge things up.
Next morning we showered, packed up and sat in the bar area again and drank tea and coffee and ate muffins while we waited to get into North Sydney dock. It's a good thing we liked this ferry because we were stuck on it until 9:30am. And this time we ended up being the first vehicle off instead of nearly the last. We had to hustle down and get stowed quickly while they waited for us to go!
Happily the weather in Nova Scotia is a lot warmer than Newfoundland has been. We drove around to the Cape Breton Highlands and up to Ingonish Beach. The top of Smoky Mountain was nearly as foggy as it was the last time we were here. They don't call it "smoky" because of fire but because it's nearly always covered in fog:
The resort up there on Middle Head is the vintage red and white Keltic Lodge. We ended up walking up there but didn't take the trail out to the end of the head this time.  
Here's the other side of Middle Head from yet another bunch of the Red Chairs. We were also able to get some fresh water at the campground and refill the water tank again plus fill all of our water bottles. They have plenty of hot water on tap at dish washing stations too so I did a little more cleanup in our increasingly grubby van. It's hard when you don't have free access to plentiful hot water! Good because our next stop doesn't have water at all.
September 7 - Cape Breton Highlands NP, Corney Brook campground.
When we were last here 3 years ago we had very foggy and rainy weather but this time it's perfectly sunny and warm though fairly windy. We drove around the north section of the park. North of Ingonish we stopped at one spot and watched seals (probably gray or harp seals) play in the water near rocks covered in drying cormorants. We got to see the Aspy Fault and the viewpoint above Pleasant Harbour:
We were able to get a great campsite in the glorified parking lot that is Corney Brook overlooking the St Lawrence. The stony beach here has pink and grey granite and some really sparkly rocks along the red sandstone headlands. You know me - I would bring home the whole beach if I could!
We watched a fabulous sunset from our campsite, complete with decorative paddle boarders and a kayaker:
Tomorrow a big jump off Cape Breton and across Nova Scotia.