Blackhawk Memorial County Park

We’d never been to Wisconsin and the weather was nice so we decided to go north after Iowa City.

Our first stop was a campground called Blackhawk Memorial County Park . It was no doubt one of the more beautiful camping areas we’ve come across.

We’re calling it a Gem despite all the “official” campsites being flooded out and my getting Shiny stuck in a wet area.

Thanks to Coach-Net, a 2 year road side assistance insurance policy which came complimentary with the purchase of Shiny, we were winched out an hour after we called thanks to Al of Al’s Towing and his two trusty helpers.

Tow truck

We spent the first night stuck in the field. After getting winched out we moved to firmer ground right beside the lake.

The place was quiet and peaceful. Fish jumped completely out of the water in search of a bite to eat. There were herons and egrets. Canadian Geese were landing, playing, and taking off in front of us. Ducks casually swam along and turtles lumbered across the pathways.

The park itself is on the site of an 1830’s battle between local militia and Native Americans led by Black Hawk, a Sauk leader. Part of the Blackhawk Wars.

It is hard to believe a battle had been fought here. A small memorial monument and a sign saying ‘Bloody Lake’ reminded us that the European settlement of this area came at such a price.

We stayed 4 days alone here in this quiet, tranquil little corner of Wisconsin.

Finding the Peace Rock might be a little tricky this time. It also might be the last time we hide it since we can’t find it. We’re looking!

Finding Places for Shiny to Stay

I’m asked, quite often, how we find all the neat places we stay at.  I do most of the campsite research and the first thing I’ll say is that it does take a little time. I usually get up in the morning first to get the coffee going and that’s when I do the “finding”. I enjoy the hunt while Susan doesn’t so much, so the system works out good.

First we discuss the general direction we want to go in then the hunt begins. As a rule we do not make reservations ahead. Even so, we seldom have to scramble to find a site. If we do have trouble it’s usually on Friday or Saturday and it’s almost always at State Parks or government run campgrounds like National Parks or US Army Corps Of Engineers campgrounds. Spring Break can be a problem time.

Another thing to keep in mind is that we like to camp as inexpensively as possible. This means it galls us to have to pay for a private campground. Basically we only use private campgrounds when we have to do laundry or dump our tanks. Last winter we were traveling from January to May and averaged less then $15 per day in camping fees. I aim to do better than that this time out!

There are many more but these are my favorite sites, some have phone apps.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fish Creek Pond, LaGrange & The Mothership

And….they’re…off!!! We left home in NH as scheduled for our 6 hour drive to Fish Creek Pond Campground in Saranac, NY. We did leave a piece of our hearts with this little codger.

Connor 4 months

Fish Creek Pond is a beautiful campground with primitive camping. The campground was built in the 1920’s and several folks who we met, shared memories of staying there as kids in the 1960’s.  We got to hang out with Airstream friends and watch part of a 90 mile canoe race.

Canoe raceWeanie roast

As always, nature did her best to wow us.

We have a new addition to the blog! It’s a ‘find the peace rock’ game. Can you find it? Maybe we will have prizes for people who find them. I’ll have to work on that!

Susie peace rock

From the Adirondacks, we headed west on I-90 and stopped east of Buffalo at a truck stop for the night. We were pretty cozy all in all considering that we were protected only by a few sheets of aluminum from passing trucks and cars.

Flying J

The next day we drove to LaGrange, OH where we stayed in Lou and Larry Woodruff’s driveway thanks to a connection we made through the Wally Byam Airstream Club Courtesy Parking program. They were beyond gracious and we even got to sing Happy Birthday and have cake with their 3 year old granddaughter. Before we left, Lou gave us a hand made Minion hat for Connor which Larry is proudly modeling!

 

On the way to the Woodruff’s we encountered a hair raising experience. Towing Shiny through the middle of Cleveland we were bearing left a a split in the highway and we had to dodge pieces of an aluminum ladder and the ladder itself. We made it through the gauntlet unscathed but others were not so lucky. Cars were pulled over to the side with flat tires.

We took advantage of our proximity to Cleveland to visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It was great fun but we were pretty confused about why there were so many old people there! 🙂

IMG_0032

IMG_0034IMG_0036

Next stop was Airstream in Jackson Center, Ohio where Shiny got a little spa treatment at the Mothership.

I love the various foods that we see and sometimes try on our travels. Alas, we will not be grilling bologna unless it’s at a Mike Jarboe Memorial Cookout!

Balogna

Must Have Gadget #9 Converter Upgrade

On our 6 month excursion last winter, we learned that when boondocking, it was impossible to charge the batteries up to a satisfactory level using the generator.  If the sun was shining and the solar panel was working all day there was no problem.

IMG_2283.jpg

But if we were parked in a shady spot or it was overcast the generator wouldn’t charge the batteries fast enough. After 4 hours of running the generator the batteries were only 75% charged at best! That matters because discharging the batteries below 50% will damage them.

IMG_2456.jpg

It forced us to find electricity and pay for private campgrounds more often then we wanted to.

IMG_2570

Not fun sometimes.

I thought about lithium batteries but they would cost about $2000 for two batteries. Ouch! AGM batteries are better then deep cycle batteries but not nearly as expensive so we compromised and went with two new AGM’s. So now we have batteries that will hold a charge longer but that doesn’t solve the problem of the generator not charging the batteries fast enough. That was solved, we hope, with the upgrade to a multi stage converter.

IMG_2799-4105549397-1535208912877.jpg

Here’s the deal as I understand it. The converter that came with our Airstream was, well, not the best. It had one charging mode and that is slow. That’s ok if your staying at private campgrounds and hooked up to electricity (shore power) all the time. But we like to boondock not only because of the secluded camp sites but also most of the time boondocking is free!

So I ordered a new converter and called my buddy Jimbo to help with the installation. I say help me but actually he did all the work. 🙂 It was a fairly easy installation though. We took out the Parallax 8355 55 amp single stage converter that came with Shiny and installed a Progressive Dynamics PD4655 VL multi stage converter and a remote pendent PD92201TV from Bestconverter.com. 

IMG_8201

The new PD4655 VL converter also comes with a toggle switch for lithium batteries in case we decide to ever go that route. Sweet!

Here’s what the old converter looked like after Jimbo got it out.

IMG_2800

Not much more than those 4 wires to get that beast out!

So what did we get with this upgrade?

Instead of a converter that charges at a rate of a little over 13 volts no matter how discharged the batteries are we get these modes of charging.

IMG_2797.jpg

Here is an interesting quote from Randy at Bestconverter.com.

The last 10% is always the longest. Many folks that boondock for extended periods use a 50-90 rule of thumb meaning they try to not go below 50% SOC (State Of Charge) but only attempting to get back to 90% on a daily basis saving that last 10% for an over night charge when you get back home. Charging from 50 to 90% should only take 2-3 hours with a modern 4 stage converter.

We should be able to avoid the expense of private campgrounds more often. We won’t have to avoid that many (about 12) to pay for the converter upgrade which was about $240 and the two new AGM batteries which cost about $350.

We’ll let you know!

Sabao Lake

We had been on the road for an hour already on winding back roads when we finally made it to Route 95 North. The highway sign read, Bangor -130 miles. At that point I was wondering whether this trip to Sabao Lake Campground was going to be worth the drive. Once we hit Bangor, we would have another 45 minutes of travel and then we’d finish the trip with 11 miles on a dirt road to get to the campground.

map revised

I know you can’t stand the suspense, so I’ll answer the question now, “Yes! It was worth it.” As a matter of fact, we are calling it a gem! The campground is managed by a friend of ours, Arthur Tenan, and we are grateful for his warm hospitality. The campground is on land owned by a paper company and is leased by the Tenan family. We were told that the water in front of the camper was deep because they used to run the logs through there in the winter. The logs floating through formed a deep channel.

The camp is situated on a beautiful lake. The sites are big and, for the most part, we were the only people there. In our terminology, it is primitive camping, which means no electric hook up, no septic, no laundry, no water and very little cell service. There are several well maintained outhouses. We watched eagles and kingfishers dive for food, listened to bull frogs croak and loons cry for 4 days.

 

There was one log on the lake that was a favorite hang out for turtles. The woods and beaches had a great variety of wild flowers including a wild orchid, Rose Pogonia, some Shin leaf, water lilies and Pippsissewa.

We took nice hikes on nearby ATV trails and found an old bus that we learned had housed loggers who were working nearby back in the 40’s and 50’s. Given the sign on the bus, I am sure there were some more recent inhabitants as well.

Magic Bus

We had a pretty exciting moment when, after watching storm clouds for 30 minutes or so, I ran to Shiny as the wind picked up suddenly. I turned to see a funnel of water rising off of the lake. We made it into Shiny just in time to get the windows closed as the micro burst blew by, which was no small feat. Alas, Shiny did sustain some cosmetic damage and a tree fell down right near us. Luckily we weren’t hurt.

And, if you think that was terrifying, why, the next morning, we were drinking our coffee and the side table gave way and ALL of our fresh coffee spilled on the ground. We are still recovering from that. Luckily, the guardian angels of Shiny were with with us and we proceeded without harm.

IMG_7905

As usual, we meet very nice people on our travels and we would be remiss if we didn’t mention Greg, our campsite host, who made us feel at home and looked after us even though he was on crutches. Thank you for your service to our country, Greg! On our last evening at the camp site, our peace and tranquility were broken by the arrival of some party-ready folks. Imagine our surprise and delight when one of them arrived at our campsite with a few pounds of fresh steamers complete with a can of beer in which to cook them! They were delicious and such a selfless gift from a stranger.

Susie and Larry 2

 

We returned home feeling refreshed and glad for the reminder of life on the road. Now for a few more doctor’s appointments and jury duty and then, if the stars align, we hit the road again.

Sign

For reservations call 207-546-3828. Downeast Wilderness Experiences does have a Facebook page as well. Tell them Shiny sent you!

 

Big Bend National Park

Big Bend is in the southern part of Texas and is along the border with Mexico. To get there, you have to drive for several hours through uninhabited desert land. When Larry and I drove there, it was about 95 degrees.  Once we entered the park, we still had 40 more miles to go before we would arrive at the campground. As we headed into ever more stark and dry landscape, our moods slowly dropped as we imagined being in Shiny in the full desert sun for four day. We were delightfully surprised when this lovely oasis near the Rio Grande came into sight.

OasisThere was no electricity at the campsite but we were able to generate quite a bit with our solar panels. Alas, on either side of us were two big motor homes and they stayed cool by running their generators constantly. And, one of them had a huge TV screen on the outside of their rig and they watched March Madness basketball games with the volume on. So, needless to say, the feng shui of the site wasn’t the best. We were lucky to be in the shade of a big cottonwood. We had to trust the Fates in the middle of the night when the wind was REALLY BLOWING!

Under the treeThe park was big and raw and beautiful. Some of the rocky landscapes looked like we were on another planet.

We couldn’t help but think about the proposed wall along the border. Many types of animals migrate back and forth on land, air and water. Seemed like the wall would be an ecologic disaster to say the least. We found little walking sticks and wire beaded animals for sale on one of our hikes. Two young men waded across the Rio Grande and up to the items for sale, checked the money box, tidied up the display, and left and waded back across.

On our many hikes, we saw lots of wild life and beautiful spring flowers. It was hard to imagine how such life could exist in such a harsh environment.

We feel so lucky to have these parks in our country and to be able to have so much fun in them!

the wall

Guadalupe Mountains National Park

volcano and treeThe Guadalupe Mountains are among the best examples of a marine fossil reef. Isn’t that amazing? These mountains are in the Chihuahuan Desert in the southwest corner of Texas. This planet is an amazing place!

mountainsThese lands were originally inhabited by the Nde (Mescalero Apache). As settlers headed west, the area became sought after because of the nearby springs. In 1849, the US Army began a campaign against the Nde that lasted 30 years. In the midst of this conflict, Butterfield Stage Coaches began carrying mail through the mountains on the nation’s first transcontinental mail route.

The Park was beautiful and wild and rough and interspersed, for me, with sadness at the thought of the genocide that was committed there.

We took some really great hikes and enjoyed learning about the area.

The night sky was filled with stars. The camping section was a little less than ideal. We were all smashed into one parking lot and there really weren’t enough places for everyone.

parkingWe felt badly for folks arriving in the evening and finding that there wasn’t any room for them. The nearest other campgrounds were about 30 miles away in Carlsbad. We did meet a nice couple who own an Airstream who live in Lubec, Maine.  On the last morning, I watched as a young mom hid Easter eggs for her kids. Home is where you make it!

eggs

Chaco

Our last exciting episode left us leaving the winds of Goosenecks.  Little did we realize that we were bringing her with us!  We had some very windy, cold and snowy weather in the third week of March at Chaco. Of course, it was a lot better than the 24 inches of snow that fell on our home in NH!

The entrance to Chaco was 22  miles long and was part dirt and part paved. We had heard that the road was in really rough condition but that was not the case when we were on it.

Chaco Chaco Culture National Historic Park is a World Heritage site. 1,100 – 1,200 years ago, the Chaco peoples built massive networks of multi-story stone buildings and today you can see those remains along with the hundreds of petroglyphs, some of which were less than 50 yards from where Shiny slept. If you zoom in on the photo below, you can see one of the ancient dwellings in the concave part of the wall.

Shiny at cliffs

We headed out on the second day to hike to another grouping of petroglyphs. When we pulled into the trail head, we were greeted with white out conditions. We thought it might just be a passing squall but, after 30 minutes of watching ill prepared hikers in snow encrusted sun hats and windbreakers make their way back to their cars, we decided to err on the side of caution and head to the visitors center.

Snow

We hung out in our camper most of the day as the storm raged on, looking out on tents that were slowly being torn apart. We were ever more grateful for Shiny. By the afternoon, things had cleared up and we took a great hike. Larry scrambled up those rocks like a billy goat thanks to an excellent meniscus repair by Skip Costello and the super surgical team at Huggins Hospital.  And, yes, we were wearing full winter gear.

Then there were the stern instructions we received about not taking any rocks or plants from the area. That was a hard one as usual but this area is a part of a sacred home land of the Hopi, the Pueblo peoples of New Mexico and the Navajo so I respected and followed the directives. I did get a few images that were pleasing to me.

We hunkered down in Shiny for the night. The wind howled and it was below freezing. It was a magnificent place but by the next morning, we were tired and cranky from fitful sleeps and headed out towards warmer and calmer climes. We were glad that we came and heartily recommend it to anyone who is out this way.

sunrise butte

Goosenecks

How can a place be spectacular yet you want to leave after 2 nights instead of the planned 3? That’s what happened to us at Goosenecks State Park in Mexician Hat, Utah. Mexican Hat was named after Mexican Hat Rock.

Mexican Hat 2

The San Juan River has, over millions of years, carved a 1000 foot canyon with tight turns or goosenecks that are officially called entrenched meandering.

There is a pit toilet, garbage cans and a few sites with picnic tables but for the most part it is primitive camping with spectacular views and breath taking night skies. The view here is every bit as magnificent as the Grand Canyon, albeit smaller.

DSCF3419

More than a few people had warned us the it could get windy there. They were right, It never stopped. And that wore us down. It was hard to get too close to the rim because I was afraid a gust of wind would blow me off!!

There was a feller there who had a square tent mounted on a platform on the bed of his pickup truck. He parked it right on the edge of the canyon. I thought he was crazy!!

He did move it back from the edge before night fall.

In the picture of Shiny below, there is a 1000 foot drop between where Sue took the pic and shiny!

Shiny1

After we left Goosenecks we drove to Cortez, CO for one night at a private campground to do laundry, empty the tanks and do some shopping. Then we headed south to Chaco, where it turns out the winds at Goosenecks were just a light breeze.

Petrified Forest

We changed our minds at the last minute and instead of heading to Chiricahua National Monuement we headed north to knock off a few items from our bucket list. Petrified Forest National Forest, Goosenecks State Park and Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

Now route 77 out of Tucson looks pretty straight forward when your looking at a map but it was a lesson in patience. There are more stop lights for the first 20 miles then a Walmart has sweat pants.

After the patience test the drive was quite scenic. Along the way we had a white knuckle experience driving through the Salt River Canyon Wilderness Area. Tight curves, 1000 foot drops, steep grades, and low or no guard rails made for a spine tingler of a drive.

Canyon view 2

As we came out of the canyon and I started to get the blood back into my knuckles this fiddle tune started playing on my radio.

Radio

Very appropriate.

We made it to the entrance to the Petrified Forest. There are two gift shops there at the entrance that offer free camping. We found a site and set up camp.

Campsite 2

We thought both gift shops were busy but as it turned out they both had permanent junk cars parked in front so it just appeared that they were busy. Pretty ingenious.

The next day we drove into the Petrified National Forest where Susan was bitterly disappointed.

Sue PF

The 26 mile drive through park was breathtaking. Best left for pictures to explain.

We’ve mentioned the Shunpikers Material before. It would behoove anyone wanting to RV frugally in the South West to spend the $69 for the 5 pdfs. They have paid for themselves over and over. We found the free camping here at the gift shops because of them. We also found places where we could legally pick up petrified wood from the Shunpikers. And that we did. We found so much we left some behind.