Posted by: glenswatman | August 20, 2007

200708 -1- CANADA Ontario, USA Michigan,Wisconsin,Minnesota,North Dakota



WEDNESDAY 1 AUGUST 2007 – Leaving Sudbury we
pass the heavily mined outskirts of town and the commemorative “big
nickel”.  The journey itself is
uneventful but we pass lots of cyclists, a man who looks to be on a long hike
with his camping gear in a pushchair and a lady trotting along the road in a
horse and carriage.  It’s another
glorious day and after a couple of hours driving we are tempted by the rest
area at Serpent River.  It’s a beauty
with easy access to the river and no one else around.  Within minutes we have settled ourselves in and taken to the
water.  There are some gentle rapids
where we enjoy a natural Jacuzzi and then a “lazy river” type ride to get down
and out from them.  A few people come
and go throughout the day and we would love to stay overnight but the signs
forbid camping between 9pm and 5am, as if you would want to camp at any other
time!  Steve goes for a stroll around
and susses out a free parking area by a quarry in a nearby road.  It’s well after 6pm when we leave to drive
up River Road to the quarry and park up for the night.



THURSDAY 2 AUGUST – First stop of the day is
at Blind River, a small town sandwiched between two lakes.  At the Information centre we make use of the
free water, dump station and wi-fi Internet. 
It’s a very pleasant town with nice sandy beaches, a marina and quite a
few free camping opportunities but too early in the day for us to stop.  Hit a major traffic jam just before Sault
Saint Marie, spend over 1 hour crawling past a bad accident where a lorry has
hit a car head on.  Don’t fancy any ones
chances judging by the wreck.  No sooner
have we cleared that hold up than we hit another one for road works taking up
another half hour or so.  At least we
manage to have our dinner whilst in the queue as we now have no chance of
making it to the casino in time for lunch. 
Head straight down to the famous locks enabling pleasure boats to
navigate the 20metre drop from Lake Superior into Lake Huron.  It’s a National Historic Site and with lots
of interesting information boards in the visitor centre.  We’ve missed the 2pm tour but the girl puts
one on especially for us and it includes a visit to the original hydroelectric
power station used to provide electrical power for opening the lock gates.  Cross the International Bridge into USA
Upper MICHIGAN giving us fine views of the American locks used by the freight
ships.  We inadvertently get into the
bus lane but the extremely pleasant customs officer passes off our error and
even nods his head telling us we have no beef or citrus fruit rather than
asking us.  Typical as this time we had
made a point of eating it all so were legal anyway!   Emerge into the American town of Sault Saint Marie and head for
Wal Mart for our overnight stop. 
Approaching the shopping centre we see 2 fire engines with lights
flashing, another accident this time involving a Police car and another
vehicle.  We have lots to buy as the
things we need all seem to be cheaper in American than Canada.  Within the shopping centre is a store called
“Glen’s Market” and with lots of 2 for the price of 1 grocery offers it’s my
kind of place.  Also take up the
opportunity to buy some clothing and for me some shoes for the cruise.  There’s an end of summer season sale and
Steve can’t resist a padded sun lounger down from $39.99 to $19.99 (£10). 



FRIDAY 3 AUGUST – Begin our long trek across
America heading west on the 28.  I guess
we are in Indian, or should I say Native American, territory as this area of
dense spruce pines is classed as Hiawatha State Forest.  We see black smoke looming on the
horizon.  We are listening to the local
radio station and learn that there is a big fire in the area to our right and
2000 acres of forest have already been burnt out.  To try to control the fire they are considering closing one of the
side highways to do a back burn.  This
is the side road to Paradise so takes out our decision as to whether or not to
go there.  Reach the edge of Lake
Superior at Munising where we stop on the outskirts to make a short walk to the
pleasant Wagoner Falls.  The coast north
of here is classed as “Picture Rocks National Park” because of the amazing
colours and shapes in the rocky coastline. 
You can view them from a boat but today the wind is strong and the trips
have been cancelled.   Driving up the
coast you can get to a viewing area.  A
longer walk takes us to Miners Falls, an unusual angled waterfall over sandstone.   Miners Castle overlook is extremely busy
but we nudge our way to the front of the viewing platform to see a very
attractive bay with the Miners Castle rock at one end.  The water is crystal clear and it’s not
uncommon to see large fish swimming around.  
Nearby Miners Beach is packed out and not for us so we retract our
journey back to Munising then continue west along the coast.  Lake Superior is so huge that you can’t see
the far side of it and with the sandy beaches looks much like the ocean.  Christmas is closer than we realise, in fact
just a few miles west of Munising and they cash in on the town name with huge
Santa statues and other kitsch things. 
We’re looking for a place to park up for the night and pass superb rest
areas behind beautiful beaches but all have “no overnight parking” signs.  We’re about halfway to Marquette when we see
a road to our right, with a sign to a boat ramp along Whitefish Point
Road.  It soon turns into a gravel road
but we press on ever hopeful.  After
about 2 miles we spot a parking area with “Historical Pathway” signs and read
on the sign that it is also a campground. 
Steve walks to check out the boat ramp as the road goes over a
single-track bridge.  The boat ramp is
by a muddy river and even though we could get there it is not appealing.  Settle onto the seemingly abandoned campsite
with plenty of shade.  There are few
cars using the main track so it’s also very quiet and suits us nicely.



SATURDAY 4 AUGUST – We both have an excellent
nights sleep as it was totally peaceful. 
Whilst I potter around the van Steve does the trail.  The logging town was abandoned 100 years
ago.  Both it and the walking track have
been taken over by the forest for Steve says he almost needed a machete to get
through head high bushes.  Set about
sealing up any gaps in the van as our journeys down dirt roads have left us
with far too much dust inside.  Using
cardboard, masking tape and silicone we think we have filled the worst
spots.  Steve takes a dip in the river
and assures me it is pleasant once he is in but he overlooks the muddy access
point.  Its so nice here that we will
have another night.



SUNDAY 5 AUGUST – We could easily talk
ourselves into staying another day but the clouds decide us to press on.  Marquette is our next stop and the first
point of interest is the display of “Grandma doors”.   Dozens of old doors have been painted or covered in photos and
decoupage depicting Grandmas.  Most make
interesting reading and we spend ages walking amongst them.  Another curious sight in town is the
“Superior Dome” at the University campus. 
It’s the largest wooden dome in the world and we go inside the building
to take a closer look.  The inside
support structure is completely made of timber and very impressive as are the
displays of Canadian Olympic athletes who have trained in the stadium.  Further along the shore we reach Presque
Isle Park where we drive the loop to get views of the cliffs and out across the
lake.  There are walks and waterfalls to
be done but we are a bit overdosed on that kind of thing so head off west.  Passing into WISCONSIN state we put our
watches back 1-hour to be on Central Time. 
(Now 6-hours behind BST).  We are
now on Highway 2, which we intend to follow all the way across to Glacier
National Park.  You can tell it’s the
most northern highway in the country by the number. Generally odd numbered
roads run north south and are numbered from west to east.  Even ones from east west and are numbered
north to south.  Most logical once you
know the system.  Bad River Casino at
Odanah is on Bad River Reservation and run by Native Americans.  As an inducement to gamble they offer free
camping including electric, water and dump station.  The camping area is at the back of the parking lot by a forest
and quite pleasant.  Vehicles range from
the big 40’ RV’s with 4 slide outs down to a solitary motorbike camper with his
one-man trailer tent.  Within the casino
there are free hot and cold drinks and if you join their club you get $5 of
non-redeemable chips free.  These can
only be used in specific slot machines, Steve loses all his and I come away
with $6.50.    



MONDAY 6 AUGUST – It’s a slow process leaving
the casino, as we are keen to use all the facilities.  We both shower then I use my hair dryer and straighteners. Next I
do some hand washing.   Dump our waste
then fill up water and gas before Steve heads back into the casino.  For every $20 you spend on gas they give you
$5 in chips so we’ve another $30 worth which Steve manages to convert it into
$28.75 cash.  Meanwhile I sit in the car
park using the wi-fi.  A most
satisfactory stop on all fronts.  In
Ashland we make a lunch stop at Maslowski Beach where there is an Artesian
Spring.  Locals are all filling up
containers so we get in on the act and fill our empty bottles.  Cross another huge bridge to Duluth in
MINNESOTA.  There are 3 things we want
to do and we easily make it to the Canal Park but from then on things go pear
shaped.  It’s incredibly busy and we
can’t fine the marine museum or anywhere to park so head out to pick up the
Skyline Scenic drive.  Duluth is a bit
like San Francisco built on a steep hill so we have to climb up through the
town to then find we have missed the turn off. 
Try to drop down to pick up the scenic drive but miss it once again and
end up back Canal Park.  However this
time it’s quieter and we manage to find the Marine Museum now renamed Lake
Superior Maritime Visitor Centre & Aerial Lift Bridge!  Cross the bridge to park on the opposite
side and walk back across to visit the free museum.  There are many interesting exhibits extolling the size of Lake
Superior, the largest freshwater lake in the world.  We did not know there were over 350 ship in it nor that it was
large enough to contain all the other Great Lakes plus 3 additional lakes the
size of Lake Erie.  This is down to the
depth rather than surface area of the lake with a deepest point of 1,333
feet.  Canal Park is a rejuvenated
dockside area with lots of shops and trendy restaurants so it’s very pleasant
to walk around.  Hang around near the
bridge to watch a large 1000’ ship pass underneath once the centre section of
the span has been raised.  Armed with an
improved map we retrace our drive up Lake Ave and turn off on 7th to
link up with Skyline Drive.  The view
from Enger Park is outstanding, the city, harbour, across to Wisconsin and up
into Lake Superior.  It’s getting quite
late so we make a very convenient overnight stop at the Wal Mart on the highway
out of town.



TUESDAY 7 AUGUST – Heading out across
Minnesota we notice the dense forest thins out, changes to Pine and Aspens with
bogs full of dead trees.  In Grand Forks
we get our cheapest fuel yet $2.78 (£1.35) gallon and top up ourselves with
double cheeseburgers at Burger King $1 (50p) each.  At the tourist office we explain to the girl that we are looking
for a place to camp for free near water and she gives us a map with “primitive”
campgrounds marked and tells us they might suit our needs.  There are a number of lakes about 100km
further on with some distinct possibilities. 
Traversing "Leech Indian Lake Reservation” we can’t resist a stop
at Palace Casino Hotel at Deer Lake. 
Too early in the day to take up the free camping with electric but not
too early for us to join their casino and get $5 each back in cash.  After spending a reasonable amount of time
browsing around we leave with cash in pocket. 
Now if we could just find half a dozen of these to do each day we could
fund our trip completely!  Drive along
the southern end of Lake Winnibigoshish, what a delightful name, with $24 night
campground fees.  However we do see a
side road and decide to chance our luck. 
We see an abandoned wheelchair in a ditch and a kid’s pushchair thrown
down at the side of the road.  Does this
lake offer miracle cures?  On the
contrary, we have just turned into a housing area where the Indians live and
before long are doing an about turn as the gardens and street are littered with
rubbish and it doesn’t feel like a good area for us to be in.  Just before Cass Lake town we turn north on
highway 10 then take the 1st left after the “Beltrami County” sign
onto “Camp Cassaway CT SE”.  It’s a
narrow dirt track but seems passable. 
There are few places for us to turn around if need be so I hop out and
walk the last mile or so the check it out. 
Race back to call Steve on to the primitive campground on the
lakeshore.  It’s superb, a nice grassy
area to park, enough trees for filtered shade and our own private sandy beach
right in front.  In no time at all we
have set up full camp with the awning out to keep the sun off the fridge,
table, chairs and sun loungers in place with us flat out relaxing.  Just a couple of cars come down during the
afternoon but for most of the time we have our own little piece of
paradise.  Steve sets up the hammock
that Cory gave us and spends most of the afternoon swinging from the trees, a
bit of a worry!  Take lots of cooling
dips in the fresh water lake fed by the Mississippi River.  In fact originally it was thought to be the
source of the river but this was later found a short way upstream from here at
Lake Itasca.  In the evening we sit and
watch a beautiful sunset then light a small campfire until it gets too cold to
stay out.



WEDNESDAY 8 AUGUST – It’s been a quiet night
with just the distant noise of a train horn and the occasional creature
sounds.  Wake to a cloud morning, as it
was yesterday, but with temperatures in the 80F forecast, wrong again.  The weather remains poor all day but we find
lots of things to do in the van, watch a DVD in the afternoon and TV in the
evening.  The only visitor is someone in
a car with a parks type camping badge on the side.



THURSDAY 9 AUGUST – We get a bit of rain
during the night but wake to a nice morning although it’s almost 10am before it
gets really hot.  Funnily enough the
lady at the tourist office told us the summer season was over and it does
actually feel that way.  Again the
“ranger” drives round mid morning but we then have the place to ourselves to
sit out an relax until another vehicle arrives in the evening.  The only sounds are the lapping of the waves
as the fishing boats buzz across the lake.   
Steve cooks jacket potatoes in the bonfire and we sit out by candlelight
to eat them.  Someone gave us a
disposable pan with popcorn for cooking on the fire and we give it a go.  A huge dome of foil rises and the corn pops
but it works very well.



FRIDAY 10 AUGUST – Another pleasant day but
with a few more visitors – human and flies.



SATURDAY 11 AUGUST – We get a few showers in
the night and find it’s very windy and much cooler when we get up.  Time to move on but only to the nearby town
of Cass where we pick up our E-mails.  The
girl at the library tells us we were at the best of all the primitive
campgrounds in the area – more by good luck than judgement.  Make Bemidji our lunch stop and chance to
photo the huge Paul Bunyon statue.  The
sun has come out and it’s now in the 80C. 
Could do with putting a few miles in before we stop for the day.  Highway 2 is now a dual carriageway with
little of interest en route but McIntosh offer camping in the “City Park”.  Bit of a laugh really as it’s more of a
small town with a population of less than 700! 
Anyway for $6 we get electricity and use of the toilet and shower.  We can hear a lot of noise over a tanoy and
find an auction at a nearby house so we get some free entertainment.  There’s a very wide main street to the town
but not a soul around.  A sign shows
“horse and buggy” parking area.  Late
afternoon we see some children playing in the park with the girls wearing long
dresses so maybe we are in Amish country. 


$6 (£3)


SUNDAY 12 AUGUST – We’ve had a noisy night,
too near the railway line with trains going throughout the night and hooting at
every road crossing.   Continuing west
on highway 2 we are now in prairie land. 
Enter NORTH DAKOTA at the town of Grand Forks.  At the visitor centre we watch a 10-minute video about the 1997
floods.  The town was completely flooded
when the river rose by over 50’ following the thawing after a 98”
snowfall.  One of the biggest flood
evacuations ever took place and a number of people never returned.  We can tell we are in prairie country as the
prairie dogs play in the car park and look really cute.  There’s a massive and impressive university
campus but the aerospace museum we want to visit is closed.  We wander around the downtown area to visit
some of the “pocket parks” created in gaps where rebuilding has not taken place.  Many contain attractive sculptures but
nothing outstanding.  Sadly the shop
Widmans “ home of the chocolate covered potato chip” is closed.  There’s some sort of pop concert going on in
the main square where only a handful of people have paid the admission, no
surprising as you can see and hear it from the sidelines and it’s not
good.  Our next stop is Devils Lake
where the damning of rivers inadvertently caused the lake level to rise, 25
feet so far and quadrupled in area since 1997. 
Dikes have now been built around the town to prevent it also becoming
part of the lake.  Wal Mart has a nice
location by the lake and from their car park we get a lovely sunset over the
lake itself.



MONDAY 13 AUGUST – It’s a cool and cloudy
morning and we soon get some rain. 
Drive out across the lake, on one of the specially raised roads, to
visit Spirit Lake Casino.  We are not
impressed, $12 to stay overnight on the car park, $28 for camping with
facilities and no freebies.  Take a
drive around Sully Nature Preserve, $2 (£1) per vehicle but the scenic overlook
is too overgrown to see.  At an area
called “prairie dog town” we see many of them making their kind of squeaking
bark whilst moving their tails, we half expect them to do a somersault like a similar
sounding toy dog does.  There’s
definitely a storm brewing as it’s getting dark and we can see lightening in
the distance.  Tune in to a local radio
station and learn that there is a severe weather warning for this area with
Esmond, the town we are heading to, in the thick of it and getting baseball
sized hail stones.  No point in driving
towards it so we take refuge in a car park near Fort Totten.  Do we park under trees to prevent our roof
and solar panel from hail stone damage and chance the lightening or what?  Opt for some trees but not the tallest ones
in the area.  In the next bulletin that
storm has moved off but there’s a second one around heading for Fort Totten
with recommendations that everyone stays indoors and away from windows.  See this as an ideal opportunity for a
coffee stop so settle down to see what happens.  Later news tells us this storm has changed course and the hail is
now golf ball sized.  Luckily it
completely misses us and we just get heavy rain and thunder.  We’d thought of visiting Fort Totten, used
as a boarding school for the Indians, but much of it is outside and the central
area is flooded so we pass.  Passing
round the edge of Devils Lake we see many marooned abandoned houses.  We are now about 20 miles south of the Geographical
Centre of North America traversing country roads bound by wheat and sunflower
fields.  Reaching Esmond the rain has
stop and it’s brightening up.  4 miles
west of town we turn off to Buffalo Lake. 
Drop down to a beautiful lakeside camping and fishing area with only one
other motorhome in situ.  Pick a spot at
the end of the track with our own covered picnic area, tables, electric,
barbecue, grassy lawn and superb views. 
It’s virtually free camping as they just ask for a donation.  The toilets are appalling, pit style and
very smelly and the pump that pumps up the water isn’t doing so but we are well
catered for inside Harry.  Take a walk
around the site and up the hill topped by an old concrete buffalo.  The views are superb and with the storm
miles away it’s turned into a very nice day but not quite hot enough for us to
swim from the beach.



TUESDAY 14 AUGUST – Unfortunately it’s a
cooler day with only the occasional sunny spell but not enough to tempt us
outside for long.  We’re ready for
another day of rest so happy to stay for the day and fester. 



WEDNESDAY 15 AUGUST – After an extremely cold
night we are not surprised to wake and find clear blue skies.  Decide to put a few miles in anyway knowing
that even the nice hot days don’t warm up before late morning.  The fields of sunflowers are spectacular
with their heads all turned to the sun. 
Spot a Police roadblock ahead where we have to stop.  Apparently a murder escaped from prison in
Louisiana and was on the run with his girlfriend.  She was arrested last night in a nearby town after they had a
fight.  We are questioned whether we
have seen anyone walking and then warned that if we do we must not stop as he
is very dangerous and carrying a bag with guns in.  Rejoin a main highway and hit another roadblock with officers in
jeans but FBI flack jackets. I have become a bit concerned as the last
Policeman checked inside our van but not the outside lockers so it would be
possible for someone to be hidden there. 
I mention this to the FBI man and we check them together although once
he tells me the man is 6’4” tall and 240lbs it kind of eliminates that
possibility anyway!   Back on a country
road we see a flashing light coming towards us.  This time someone is moving house, literally, and it’s creating a
very wide load on the back of the following lorry.  At the next road intersection we are blocked by another car with
flashing lights.  This time it turns out
to be a convoy complete with large civilian lorry, army trucks and
escorts.  They are going the same way as
us so we fall in behind them and then realise that they also have helicopter
surveillance following them so it must be something important.  So who says driving across the prairies is
boring?  In New Town I spot a port-a-loo
up a pole, door open and man sat on the toilet with his pants down.  A novel way of advertising chemical toilet
rental.  Pick up the historical Lewis
& Clark trail near the attractive Lake Sakakawea.  Cross the Four Bears Bridge then stop to read the interpretive
signs about the 3 bridges that have been here including this one only opened in
2005.  There’s also lots of info about
the Indians as it was one of their tribe, a girl called Sakakawea, who escorted
Lewis & Clark in their explorations. 
Many have wonderful names such as “Chief Drags Wolf”.  We soon enter the badlands area with
dramatic and attractive rock formations. 
Theodore Roosevelt National Park enclosed the best parts.  Invest $80 (£40) in an annual pass then go to
the visitor centre.  They often have
guided walks and campfire talks in the parks however there are none on tonight
but 3 events scheduled for tomorrow. 
Decide to camp outside the park and return tomorrow.  4 miles further south, through more scenic
badlands, we turn off to Summit Campground. 
It’s free to camp and we pick a shady spot with our own picnic
table.  A 10-minute walk takes us to a
scenic overlook giving us a taster of what we should see tomorrow.  It’s similar to the badlands we visited in South
Dakota but here there is much more greenery around.



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