Camping with Suzi

Join me as we discover camping in our national forests.

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Broken seat belt in a small town

It has been a rough season for our equipment. We have had a wide variety of things break. From small annoyance such as a tail-light burning out and Fred’s electric toothbrush falling apart to more critical stuff like the kitchen faucet shearing off and, now, an inoperative seat-belt. (The steady drip/drip/drip from the shower stall suggests that will be our next challenge and let’s hope the occasional problem of the coach door not opening will wait until we are home before going critical.)

Unlike at home, problems with equipment while on the road seem to always require several hours in the car to reach a place where replacement or repair can be achieved. The broken seat-belt is a case in point.

Now, I love my little Suzuki Grand Vitari (a.k.a. Squirt). With 70,000-plus, it continues to run like a champ and to drive like a dream. I would never have thought a seat-belt could “break” and require so much effort to fix. It seems seat-belts are so reliable, no one in Wisconsin keeps them in stock. (To say nothing of the challenge of finding a Suzuki dealership.) A helpful Ford dealership in Eagle River, WI found a Suzuki dealership in Michigan who would order the part for us. Yipeee!

A week later, the replacement seat-belt was delivered to the Michigan dealership. The reason it took a week? It seems there is a tiny explosive in the belt’s locking device and that required special handling which delayed delivery. It also means this life-saving piece of equipment cost a pretty penny.

Because of the presence of an explosive, and the arrival of Saturday and Sunday, delivery of the seat-belt from the Michigan dealership to the Wisconsin dealership would not be accomplished for four or five more days. That would put us further behind schedule so Fred and I opted to drive the 100 miles to the Michigan dealership to get the part.

One hundred miles to, 100 miles back, piece of cake. Because we spent more than half those miles on County Routes, the trip took three hours each ways. Beautiful country, even in the rain, was enjoyed but my poor tussy. (Because it’s the passenger seat-belt that is in-operative, I must ride in the back-seat and want to convey my apologizes to all those people who have had to ride in my back-seat – I had no idea have solid that seat is.)

To get the seat-belt installed required a nearly two-hour drive from our campground (Bear Lake) near Laona back to Eagle River, WI. But now I can move back into the front seat.

My point is stuff happens when you are away from home. Flexibility and a willingness to see problems as adventures helps a good bit. And hope if you do have a problem, it occurs in or near a small town. We have found the people in small towns to be the most resourceful, talented, and helpful folks

Friends at The Pines

I love this job!!!! Especially when we get to meet interesting folks like the ladies at Ed and Mary’s “Pine Acres Pub and Restaurant”. Ed and Mary Adams are pretty nice, too.

“The Pines”The-Pines-owners, as the locals call Ed and Mary’s pub and restaurant, was a “happening place” for decades. Maybe 40 years ago, The Pines was a dance hall and a saloon but we know The Pines only as a bar and restaurant. Co-owner Ed’s dad tells stories about going to The Pines for dances and hanging out there when he was a young man. Another story is about Ed’s cousin and how, as a kid, he earned fifty cents cleaning up the place on Sundays. When The Pines went up for sale, Ed and Mary were ready for a change, and it seemed natural for them to buy the place where so many family memories were centered.

Thirteen years ago we stopped at The Pines after surveying the Nicolet National Forestbrule-River-campground’s neighboring Brule River campground. (FYI: Brule River campground is, IMHO, one of the nicest campgrounds in the Nicolet National Forest and is its best kept secret). A tall cold one sounded good so we dropped in. Irene, the owner at that time, was behind the bar with a sprinkle of locals holding a heated conversation in front. Irene broke off talking and served us our beverages and then began regaling us about the beautiful bar her husband had built for her. It is a gorgeous piece and she had every right to be proud. Irene is gone but her bar still shines brightly in the afternoon sunlight.

Ed and Mary purchased The Pines three years ago and made a few changes to the bar area. The biggest change they made was re-opening the old dance hall as a restaurant. You can almost hear the music played by a local three-piece band and see the couples gliding across the nFriendarrow plank wood floor. However, today the area where you can dance is a little small. Ed has built in these enormous satin finished wood plank tables and benches into the outside walls. They are so big you can easily sit eight adults, set down all their plates, and still have room. This arrangement leaves enough room in the center of the room for the “Ladies of Iron River,” MI to have their weekly card game. They have been gathering every week for twenty-plus years! Imagine that! They play only one card game. One lady called it “Bitch Rummy” but I think the name should be more like “Friends Forever Rummy.”

What a good day when you can discover a great campground, a great historic establishment, and make new friends.

Wifi or Broadband?

Anyone who has sent us e-mailed during a camping season, waited for our next blog, or wondered when we were going to post an update to current postings will be familiar with: “Sorry for the delay in responding but we are currently researching the such–and-such and communication is limited.”

Frustrating? YES, for both you and us!

Fred tries to have the best devices and latest methods to insure our ability to communicate with the world but we are always slightly behind the curve. (He just purchased a “Signal Boost-Mobile Amplifier Kit” after being without reception for more than a week. Works well enough.) However, I think this year our problems with communicating reached a crossroads and we are hoping things will be easier from here on. We are using both broadband and wifi!

Ways to communicate electronically have changed greatly since we began our project in 1994. Acoustic couplers and phone booths have evolved to cell phones with broadband and laptops with Wifi. Broadband and wifi are a delight when compared to our phone booth days but do we need both? You may not but, in our case, Fred says the answer is yes. I think of it as insurance that we will have the greatest chance of success.

I don’t know about other cellophane companies but we use Verizon and it has good broadband coverage across the nation. We have found a few “dead” zones (most in the campgrounds of the Superior NF) but, in general, they have been few and far between. The downside of broadband is when we can use it. Our plan has “free minutes” from 9PM to 6AM – a bit late for me but good for Fred – and that’s when we can do an upload and the more time consuming internet work.

Fred’s latest “toy” is a Blackberry phone. We can get our email anytime and anywhere the Blackberry “sees” a broadband signal. (FYI: The broadband seems to work better than the phone part-go figure.) Any message that requires immediate action can be dealt with right then and there. Works well except it has a touch screen and I’m finding the learning curve to be frustrating.

I remember, back in the day, Fred and I would drive around an area, usually a residential area, with this search-and-identify wifi device in hand. I would point it at this or that building and activate the device and hope we receive a “good” signal. That was back when wifi in homes tended to be insecure. Not the case today, now most households and businesses have secured their wifi (a good thing). But, often small businesses (bakeries, café, taverns, etc.) have wifi. All you need to do is go in, buy something, seat down and boot up. Outstanding! And wifi is becoming more readily available in private campgrounds (yes, modems are going the way of the Model T) which is better for us then using an wifi hotspot provided by some business.

So, which is the “must have” for anyone traveling? That’s a tough question. I’m no techie but if I had to give one up I’d probably drop the wifi and start going to bed at 7PM and getting up around 3AM to use our broadband. But if I were traveling in any other mode than an recreational vehicle, I would probably hold on to the wifi and dropping the broadband. Remember we need our laptops for work so. . . If there was no reason to bring the laptop, wifi and broadband would be left on home. I mean, would a carpenter bring her saw, hammer and nails on vacation?

Which is the best method to maintain communications with family and friend for business or pleasure? There are a bunch of techie questions that need to be answered along with the importance of your keeping in touch with whomever. Will a simple phone call from a pay phone be sufficient? If someone wants to get hold of you, does it have to be “right now”? Will you need to get hold of someone “right now”? What is your budget? So many questions. My suggestion is to follow the old “k.i.s.s” rule – keep it simple, stupid.

Stretching eases the stiffness

My hip replacement surgery has helped make this one of the best trips we have had in a long time. I’m still building up my endurance but it is such a pleasure to get back to the rig after a walk and not hurt.

There is, however, one lingering problem. My muscles seem to tighten up quicker now. This is especially true after a long drive in the motorhome. After sitting for a couple of hours everything hurts when I first start moving around. To combat this I’ve started stretching more often. If you share this problem with me, here are some stretches I do to help ease the stiffness.

- Sit someplace that gives you good support.* Have your feet flat on the ground and about 24 inches apart. Clasp your hands together and lean forward as far as you can, hopefully touching the ground with your knuckles, and hold for 30 to 60 seconds. Repeat as desired.

- Sit someplace that gives you good support. Place your hands on the top of your head. Let your head fall forward with the weight of your hands giving a little pull. Hold 30 to 60 seconds. Repeat as desired. This is one I can do in the navigator’s seat and pulls the tension out of my upper back and shoulders.

- Sit on a bench or picnic table with your knees against the edge and hands on your thighs. Slowly rotate from the base of your spine to one side while reaching to place your hands on the bench. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds. Repeat on other side.

- Sit someplace that gives you good support.* Extend your legs out in front of you (knees can be bent slightly) and reach for your toes with out-stretched hands. Reach as far as you can without discomfort and hold 30 to 60 seconds. Repeat as desired.

- Lay on the floor in a doorway. Place one leg against the door-jam or wall, point to the ceiling with your heel, and have the other leg on the floor. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds. Repeat on other side. You should “feel” this in the back of your raised leg. If you feel something pulling in the leg on the floor, flex the knee in the leg on the floor.

* I’ll prefer a picnic table’s seat but the bench seat in our motorhome’s kitchen works fairly well.

National Grassland Adventures

One of the most predictable things about our time on the road is it’s unpredictability. I thought, once we finished revisiting the Nicolet National Forest, we could just relax and get to spend some time with family and friend for the Labor Day holiday. However, an article in the Summer-Fall 2009 issue of Your National Forests changed those plans.

Guess what!!! Illinois has a tallgrass prairie called Midewin. Now the hunt is on to find information about this former site of the Joliet Army Ammunition Plant. My initial research makes Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie sound similar to Land Between the Lakes (LBL). What I mean by this statement is, although LBL has some fabulous developed campgrounds and Midewin appears to be void of any camping facilities, they both have a focus on opportunities for scientific, environmental, and land use education and research.

In addition, Midewin’s has objectives to: conserve, restore, and enhance the native populations and habitats of fish, wildlife, and plants; allow the continuation of existing agricultural uses of lands within Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie; and, offer recreational opportunities. Sounds like our kind of place and we hope to contribute to the development and growth of that “recreational opportunities” objectives.

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I must say they are really serious about storms in the Dakotas. We actually pulled into an abandon gas station to wait out one downpour. We were told the town of Lemmon, SD received three-inches of rain in one hour around breakfast. Here are a couple of photographs of the Cedar River National Grassland as we head toward another downpour. Cedar River NG doesn’t have any developed campgrounds but some beautiful scenery.

North Dakota stormy sky

Heading into the storm.

Stormy sky

The storm is blowing by – fast!

One cool discoveries was a quartzite marker which delineates the boundary between North and South Dakota. There are a total of 720 of these 800-pound markers stretching from Minnesota to Montana. Each marker has “N.D.” chiseled on the north face and “S.D.” on the south face. The markers also have mileage from “Initial Marker” located close to the MinnesND-SD border markerota border.

Sorry the chiseled SD and miles can’t be seen but it is there

What a bargain!!!!

After the hoards of people in and around Yellowstone National Park, Fred, the Kids, and I are enjoyed the lack of humans in the Little Missouri National Grasslands. Granted, none of the campgrounds have hook-ups, most don’t have shade, and their potable water is definitely an “acquired taste” but the scenery is breath-taking, the campsite spacious, nearly empty, and the fees are dirt cheap. Plus there is a ton of things to do. Who knew?

One highlight of our time in the Little Mo NG was a concert in the former Arnegard Schoolhouse, now a B&B, by a group called the Radio Stars – fabulous.

Buffalo Gap campground
I’m not a shopper but I do love a bargain and we found one in the Little Missouri National Grasslands – Buffalo Gap campground. It is located at Exit 10 on I-94 between Beach and Medora, North Dakota. It has several features unique to the other Little Missouri NG’s campgrounds namely flush toilets, hot showers, paved interior road, paved parking aprons, lots of shade, an on-site volunteer campground host, a Nature Trail and a connector trail to the Maah Daah Hey Trail. It is a short drive to the Buffalo Gap Guest Ranch for a meal or to enjoy one of the activities they offer and only a little farther to the Theodore Roosevelt National Park – South Unit and all the fun stuff in Medora. One thing Buffalo Gap campground has in common all the others in the Little Missouri is the fee – a mere $6.00. That’s right, it’s $6.00 per night to camp at this little gem!

There aren’t a lot of people in North Dakota and there might be even less tourists. In the three days we camped at Buffalo Gap, the campground was never more than a quarter full. So if you ever get up that way, take advantage of what has to be one best buys in the state.

Home Remedies for Campers

Here are some home remedies I have used when far from home, on the road, or deep in the woods.

Aching Back – Fill a plastic zipper bag of crushed ice and apply to the sore area two or three time a day for no longer than 20 minutes. Alternate ice pack with a warm, moist heat such as a hot wash rag and do some gentle stretching.

Blisters – Wash the blister well with soap and water. Using either a sterile lancet (available at drug stores) or a sterilized sewing needle make a pinpoint at the base and edge of the blister. Allow the fluid to drain onto a gauze, apply anti-bacterial ointment, and cover the flattened blister with a clean bandage. NEVER, Never, never remove the outer bubble of skin.

Dry Skin – Limit showers to warm, not hot, 3-minutes and use a mild soap. Apply a moisturizer with little or no alcohol in its ingredient listing immediately after showers, while skin is still moist. (I’ve been known to use olive oil in a pinch.)

Sore Feet – Roll one of those little water bottles filled with cold water underfoot. If a particularly long day on your feet is planned, stick the bottles in the freezer. The ice acts as an anti-inflammatory. Follow with a soothing foot massage and your foot will be very happy.

Stomachaches – Try a small handful of dried blueberries and a sip of water. The blueberries contain an antibacterial compound and sticky substance that soothes the tummy.

Urinary Tract Infections – Drink a tonic of half a teaspoon of baking soda in 8-ounces of water to relieve the burning caused by high acid level in urine until you can get to a doctor. Be sure to increase your water intake also. (Note: not suggested for sodium restricted diets.)

Tension headaches – Massage a couple of drops of lavender oil on your temples to relax the muscles in your head and neck area. Continue the massage behind the ears and than up and down the neck. The circular motion of the massage and the scent of lavender do help. For additional assistance try a cool compress of lavender-scented water.

Tooth Plaque – Have a cup of tea after dinner. The natural tannis in tea helps prevent plaque from hardening into tartar.

Skin rash – Add Chamomile to bathwater or use in a soothing compress, this herb’s azulene does quiet skin irritated by too much sun, wind, poison ivy, or dry skin.

Curlew National Grassland


I explained what a “national grassland” is last entry but now I want to describe what our visit last month to the Curlew National Grassland was like.

From what I have read this valley was all tall grass prairie when the white man came. It was thought to be prime hunting grounds. Than the railroad rolled through. Next came the cattle ranches. First small operations which got bought up by bigger operations who overgrazed the land. Droughts, hard winters, and overgrazing destroyed the tall grass and the sagebrush moved in, than the farmers. Those folks last a couple of decades before the sagebrush and drought forced them out. Now there is the Curlew and a scattering of hardy souls who “make it” by running cattle and raising hay. Those we have met here aren’t rich in the pocket but have golden hearts. They are true country folks living on a beautiful but challenging land. IMHO, City folks wouldn’t last long here. Too quiet, too peaceful, too honest.

Sitting in the middle of an electric storm. Being one of the tallest things around. Rain pelleting down. Now I know how a goffer living on a driving range must feel. Seeing lightening actually strike the ground. Beautiful and scarey.

Ancient shoreline of the Bonneville Lake mark the mountains to our east while the mountain on our west still have snow on their upper most crags.

Birds sang me to sleep and were my alarm clock.

The lights from seven homeplaces can be seen but not one set of headlights. Lonely country filled with caring people.

Lunch at Ranch House Diner in Snowville, UT (one of two places cafes in town). Small four or five stool counter accompanied by a steady flow of locals asking for coffee, pie, and company. Best homemade chicken noodle soup I’ve tasted on the road and Fred’s “Matt’s Sandwich” was outstanding. Real turkey breast with thick slices of perfectly cooked bacon, a slice of cheese, lettuce, tomato, and all the fixin’s between three slices of whole wheat “Texas” (thick sliced) toast. Yummy. Pleasant, homey atmosphere with the server, cook, and local customers all talked and joked together. Two women walked in, looked at the menu, made a face and walked out – they have no idea what they missed.

But that sort of described folks how have never tried camping and exploring a national grassland – they don’t what they are missing.

Great drive thru Montana

Interstate 84
After two nights in a private campground, we are back where the radio plays two types of music (country or western), directions given in advertisements using landmarks (“. . .turn left at the DQ”), funerals and viewings for the “dearly departed” are announced by a somber voiced speaker, the price of agricultural products, such as beef and soybeans, is given each day at lunch, and there is an hour each day set aside for listeners to buy, sale or trade all sorts of stuff (“I’ll swap two bushel of potatoes to have my garden tilled”). Here the sky goes on forever, creeks flow with coco colored water, and there are more semi-trucks on the road than automobiles. Only the less affluent drive Buicks, Oldsmobile, and Chevy sedans. Men wear baseball caps when they work and put on cowboy hats when they go out.

The scenery is beautiful but can be a little boring so I’ll listen more careful to the words of a song in an effort to stay alert. Found these phrases noteworthy: “”She looked too good not to go someplace.” and “G-d is great. Beer good. People are crazy.” Yes, there were others but those got stuck in my mind.

People in this part of the country (eastern Montana and western North Dakota) aren’t wealthy by any means. They make do and find a way to stretch a dollar. One way we saw was baling the tall grass that grows along the roadway and is mowed. Not sure if it is the landowner or the state but on the side of the road, in the center median, all over the place, there were little brick shaped bales of hay just waiting for folks to come and get them.

There has beyellowstone riveren a lot of rain recently and a sudden increase in the temperature causing tons of water to flow into the rivers, creeks, and lakes. Everyone appeared overly full. We spent all day to drive beside Yellowstone River (of Lewis and Clark fame). It’s water was the color of coco made with water instead of milk and appeared thick and sluggish. Not very pretty but would have been a good travelin’ route for canoes.

We are camped in a Little Missouri National Grassland campground named CCC. It is one a slight raise above the Little Missouri River which is about as thick and muddy as the Yellowstone. However, this is a really pretty spot. Ralf and Dani already discovered that Bighorn sheep like the lush grass growing in all the sites. Baths for everyone! We have a view of US 85 and occasionally the sound of Jake brakes can be heard. But the only lights I saw when going to bed was from the moon and stars. Talk about feeling like the last person on earth. Pretty cool.

What is a National Grassland?

We start our research of the Dakota Prairie National Grassland today with the Little Missouri Grassland. So you may ask, “What is a national grassland?”

The areas now designated as “grasslands” were settled in the 1800s under a variety of “Homestead Acts” which opened the land to people, generally farmers, and helped to settle the west. A prolonged period of drought in the late 1920s into the 1930s caused some homesteads on sub-marginal farmland (a location receiving 15 or less inches of annual moisture) to literally dry up and blow away. During this time, Congress established the Land Utilization Program (LUP) which bought homesteads from bankrupt private owners and returned it to public land status.

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was brought in to help stabilize the eroding soil by re-seeding it and applying other conservation techniques. In the 1950s, the LUP holdings were assigned to the USDA Forest Service which was tasked with management of these sub-marginal lands. Over the years the Forest Service has established some twenty National Grasslands. “The designation of the area as National Grassland is not a description of the area as much as a statement of policy and effort to restore the area to a multiple of uses and benefits.”

In many ways National Grasslands are land management experiments being practiced. These grasslands are managed for a variety of purposes including forage, fish and wildlife, timber, water, and recreation resources. While National Grasslands are valued for these basic goods, they also deliver other important services that are often perceived to be free and limitless. Taken for granted as public benefits, ecosystem services lack a formal market and are traditionally absent from society’s balance sheet. As a result, their critical contributions are overlooked in public, corporate, and individual decision-making.

FYI – This definition is from the Forest Service. I’ll have a better description shortly.

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