Wyoming to the border: Custer, Yellowstone and Fargo

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I’m trying to play catch up here, so we’re going to breeze through our return trip through Yellowstone, Eastern Montana, Fargo and Northern Minnesota. After our jaunt through Montana and Idaho, we had to be back in Fargo for a work conference for my job in mid May and were fortunate to loop through some neat places along the way.

Wyoming

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  • We saw road signs during this part of the trip for Frost Heaves. What does that even mean and what do we do if we’re warned about them?
  • We stayed a night in West Yellowstone and drove back through the park. Our last trip to Yellowstone was in late summer, so things were very different being there in early spring.  We saw a great mix of wildlife including bison, grizzly bear, black bear, wolves, elk and big horn sheep. We decided that while bison look even more impressive right before they shed their winter coats, elk are much less cool without the big racks. Big horn sheep molting from winter to summer on the other hand look like the meth addicts of the park.
  • In Yellowstone, we met a couple of retired teachers from who gave us tips and ultimately helped us get our best view of a grizzly yet. They even shared their binoculars.IMG_1231
  • We rolled into Yellowstone on May 1 and the snow was still around in many places. It was actively snowing on us at a couple of points around Old Faithful and many park roads were still closed.IMG_0497
  • Both of the campgrounds (Hideaway RV Campground in West Yellowstone, Wyoming and Rocky Mountain Campground in Gardiner, MT) were staffed by unusually friendly and happy people.

Montana

  • Montana drivers replaced Delaware drivers as our least favorites. Speed limits are high there. We saw 80 mph signs on a curvy, snowy two-lane mountain road. Multiple times in both the RV and the Honda we were passed on double yellow lines from people who couldn’t stand us doing 60 or 70 mph.
  • Most of the parks this far north don’t seem to have water to each site because of freezing winters. It’s easier for them to keep one line from freezing than 60 lines running to each of the sites.IMG_8175
  • We camped one night at a trout farm in Big Timber, MT and we really enjoyed slinging the fish food into the pools for the big trout to splash and thrash around.
  • We stayed for two nights at a campground in Garryowen, MT, right outside of Little Bighorn National Memorial. We biked through the battlefield, and while it and the visitor center was fine, I was a little underwhelmed. As someone who loves history, I am still trying answer why everyone knows the names “Custer,” “Sitting Bull” and “Little Bighorn,” but so many other Indian Wars people and places are unknown. From what we saw, Custer was arrogant and got his men killed, yet he lives on as a legend. I don’t get it.IMG_8195
  • Going back through eastern Montana was so boring, flat and empty that Jess drove her first miles of the trip. Exactly 51 miles from rest area to rest area down I-94, to be exact. Her report:  “”It is a strange feeling to not know where the end of your vehicle is as you can’t look into a rearview mirror. It takes a lot more concentration than a car.” As I expected she did just fine with the lane and everything, but didn’t quite get up to speed. That’s possibly because her left foot didn’t quite reach the floorboard to rest comfortably with the gas pedal down. Fortunately for her, we only saw about six or seven other cars in the 51 miles.IMG_0763

North Dakota

  • We had a long drive to Mandan, N.D. for a stay at Fort Abraham Lincoln. Honest Abe never visited the fort, but the museum and replica forts do a good job of telling the area’s history. We biked all over the place, including many trails in the grass. This was tougher than expected.IMG_8237
  • Our site in the campground, aside from being almost impossibly far away from our sewer and water hose hookups (two 25-foot hoses coupled together), was crowded or so it felt. Camping there on a weekend night, it was the first busy campground we’d seen in months.
  • Fargo, ND and Morehead, MN lived up to their billing for fun and quirky attractions. In addition to a good conference and excellent brisket at Spitfire Grill, we got our photo made with the famous wood chipper used in the movie “Fargo;” visited a replica viking church and ship; visited the Roger Maris Museum; rode a ferris wheel and checked out mannequins of many presidents inside a Scheel’s sporting goods store and visited the original walk up Dairy Queen where the Dilly Bar was invented. Bravo to the visitor center staff in Fargo who were super nice. The visitor center has a “Walk of Fame” out front where visiting stars have put their hands into cement. IMG_8306 
  • Jess lost her phone for the first time in her life, leaving it at the famous Dairy Queen. The staff was holding it for her when she went back for it.
  • I had an excellent conference where I was invited to an alpaca shearing party. Sadly, we could not attend.

Minnesota

  • Even after two swings through Minnesota, we still had a few more things on our list to see. At the top of that list was Lake Itasca, where the Mississippi River begins. The park is very pretty and has a lot going on, but walking across the rocks at the very top of North America’s biggest river was pretty cool.IMG_0773
  • We biked 19 miles around the park and among the fun facts we learned from interpretive signs and visitor centers was that it takes 90 days for water at Itasca to reach the Gulf of Mexico. Braden spat in the river from the first bridge and I’m supposed to help him remember that about the time he starts kindergarten in August, his spit will reach saltwater.
  • After months of deserts and prairies, Itasca was the first place we’d had big enough trees at the campsite to hang up our hammock. The campground was pretty well packed, but remarkably quiet and peaceful.
  • On the way out, we stopped to see the Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox statues in Bemidji, MN. They are impressive and it’s always fun to visit a place on the cover of an “American Roadtrip” book.IMG_8480
  • After Bemidji we stayed at a Corps of Engineers campground on the Mississippi and saw a bald eagle as we parked. The river was probably about 30 feet across at that point.
  • We streaked across the state to Duluth and got to see our old friend Lake Superior again. Duluth is very much a working park of the lake, and while it was still pretty, it’s a far cry from the pristine, empty parts of the lake we’d seen in Upper Michigan last summer.IMG_4316
  • We camped out on a pier (or maybe a jetty?) and got to see the big ships coming and going. We heard a few foghorns and watched the big bridge raise up and down to accommodate the freighters. Duluth is as far as you can go west in the Great Lakes so boats leaving there can sail all the way through each of the lakes before hitting the St. Lawrence and the Atlantic. Pretty neat to see those big trips start and end.
  • Duluth is home to Duluth Trading Company, which is a cool outdoor and workwear store with funny advertising. Jess and I both bought some of their famously comfortable underwear and they have lived up to the billing. Is that too much to share on a blog?
  • Duluth is also home to a nice canal walk, lighthouses and an okay children’s museum. We enjoyed all of those.IMG_8501
  • After Duluth, we stayed at Temperance River State Park, looking at Lake Superior out our back window. Walking down on the beach, we got a glimpse of the pure and beautiful lake that we saw last summer. It was excellent.
  • Before crossing the border, our final stop was Grand Portage National Historic Site. It was fun to learn yet another lesser known chapter of the American story, as the site and museum highlight the interactions between European trappers and American Indians. It’s interesting to see how something like a fashion craze for beaver skin hats in England can shape cultures thousand of miles away on the rivers and forests that would become Minnesota. It was nice to get one last taste of American history, before we turned north and left the U.S. behind us.