Don’t Pet the Bison!

CAMPGROUND: Juniper Campground, inside North Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. As with other national campgrounds – limited services and beautiful nature. Water and dump station at entrance. Nice firepit and picnic table. Large sites; ours is pull-through. OK bathrooms, but no showers. Woodsy. $7/night with senior pass. 4 stars out of 5
LOCATION: Not near anything! West central North Dakota
WEATHER: Perfect. High 73. Sunny.

Today’s plan was to move from the South Unit to North Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The two are separated by about 55 miles. As we left the South Unit this morning, we watched this buffalo grazing, right near our campground.

The road north between the two units is bordered by National Grasslands, and lots of lots of hayfields. There is so much hay that they bale the grass on the shoulders of the highway. We wonder who gets this public hay?

This North Unit campground is not very utilized due to its remoteness. We had our pick of about 40 sites. It did fill up a bit later in the day. After we got set up, we took the scenic drive around the park.

These badlands are even more rugged and dramatic than the ones in the South Unit. Part of it is a high prairie, where these buffalo were munching away.

We walked some nature trails and enjoyed the beautiful day.

KARMEN’S KITCHEN TIP: Since I love to cook, I like to carry most of my spices with me. There is a drawer under the oven that is perfect for storing my stash..

I put all the spice jars – oregano, basil, cumin, chili powder, dill, file gumbo, sesame seeds, etc etc in a box.

Once the lid is on night, it fits perfectly on its side in that little cupboard.

I like to find grocery stores that have a bulk section so I can fill up the jars without having to buy new ones, when possible

Our campground has this cute sign posted. Some people just don’t get it, though. At Yellowstone, they pass out flyers in 10 languages warning people to not get close to the bison. Even with that, we heard that a few weeks ago, some dumb parents told their young daughter to go pet the bison for a photo-op. Of course, a disaster ensued. The bison tossed her up in the air, and the parents fled in fear.

DINNER: Back to lake trout. 😦 I pulled out some frozen fillets from the freezer, and made a British fish pie: I layered the fish on the bottom of a Pyrex baking dish. Then layers of — a tin of smoked oysters with its juice, peas, sauteed onions, lemon juice, dollops of cream cheese, all topped with mashed potatoes. Since the evening cooled off, I was able to bake it in the oven without heating up the Air Stream. I told George that I could not face any leftovers, and planned to just toss whatever we didn’t eat. It must have been good, as he asked for seconds and finished it off. I will make fish salad for sandwiches for tomorrow’s lunch.

Off to be enchanted….

CAMPGROUND: 2nd night at Cottonwood Campground
LOCATION: Theodore Roosevelt National Park in southwestern North Dakota
WEATHER: Hot. High 95

Today’s destination was a day trip to the Enchanted Highway. We knew it was supposed to be hot today, so an air-conditioned car trip seemed in order.

The Enchanted Highway is kind of like Wall Drug – billboards really hyping it up. It is a 32-mile stretch of highway between two towns with 7 huge metals sculptures placed randomly along the way. Billed as the “World’s Largest Metal Sculptures”, they have been constructed with old oil tanks, farm equipment, and wire mesh. These are a few….

Deer Crossing – built in 2002

Tin Family – built in 1991

Grasshoppers in the Field – built in 1999. The grasshopper is 50 feet long and 40 feet tall. In this photo, you can see how small George and our truck look in comparison.

Speaking of grasshoppers……throughout the drive, our windshield was hit repeatedly with huge plops of moist grasshopper guts. We had to stop twice to clean the windshield in order to see out!

A Fisherman’s Dream – built in 2006. Unfortunately two of the fish sculptures in this installation had recently blown over in a storm. When we stopped by, the artist was there with some workers getting it back in order. Of course, George had to chat with the group.

We had planned to cap our trip with lunch at the much-advertised at Enchanted Castle Hotel and Restaurant, but alas, it was closed. So, we drove on to the next larger town for fast food. 😦 We tried Burger King’s new meatless burger. It was actually quite good, but expensive.

On the way back to the campground, we saw two huge herds of bison and a group of wild horses in the national park, along the highway. We stopped at the visitors’ center to look at the Painted Rocks section.

DINNER: Shrimp cocktail as an appetizer, while we waited for the evening to cool down. Then, halibut. I had bought some fish filets before George successfully caught the lake trout. I am trying to use up all the seafood before we leave the Air Stream for a few days when we fly to Alberta soon. I wrapped the halibut (my favorite fish) in aluminum foil with some sesame oil and lemon slices, and George cooked it over the campfire. Sides were stir-fried rice and salad.

BOOK: “For the Sake of Elena” by Elizabeth George. British detective story. Very good. I will try to read more by this author. 9 stars out of 10

Bonding with Teddy Roosevelt

CAMPGROUND: Cottonwood Campground inside Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Unit. Typical national park – no services, but full of natural beauty. Ours is a pull-through, level site. Nice grill and picnic table. Bathrooms are good, but no shower. Water available at registration. No dump station. $7/night with Senior Pass. What a deal! 4 stars out of 5
LOCATION: Southwest North Dakota. Nearest town is Medora
WEATHER: Beautiful. Sunny. High 75

We didn’t sleep very well at the Harvest Host brewery as long, noisy trains passed by throughout the night, only feet from the AirStream. Also, there were some refrigerated trucks in the parking lot and their compressors came on periodically during the night. Not a big deal.

As we passed in to North Dakota, the landscape changed almost immediately. Still a lot of badlands, but in addition to the endless wheat and hay fields of Montana, huge fields of happy sunflowers basking in the sun filled the landscape.

We didn’t have campground reservations, so just hoped that we could grab a walk-in site. Since we arrived at about 10:00, several campers were leaving, and we were able to get into one fairly easily.

After getting set up, we went in to the town of Medora. The town is quite touristy, but still has retained its cowboy Western feel.

This is where Teddy Roosevelt fell in love with North Dakota and started the concept of conservation by creating national parks. He said that being in North Dakota is what made him want to be President. I just had to give him a hug…..

We drove the 36-mile scenic drive loop around the park, stopping in many of the scenic viewpoints.

On the drive, we saw a wild horse galloping in a field, then several bison, and thousands of prairie dogs.

Back at the campsite, we enjoyed a quiet afternoon, then started a campfire. Our neighbors just happen to be AirStreamers, too, and they joined us for happy hour.

KARMEN’S KITCHEN TIPS: With limited cupboard space, I only have 3 pans for cooking. One skillet is old and on its last legs. I use it when we cook outdoors. A saucepan is used inside and outside – for soups, pasta, etc. It will probably need to be delegated just to outdoor cooking soon. Here they are, on the campfire tonight….

Note the skillet mitt – hand-made by our friend Jenny. The third pan is a non-stick saute pan that I only use indoors.

DINNER: I just couldn’t face another meal of lake trout, so I switched it up. Needing to use some frozen, cooked Italian sausage, I made a pasta dish: macaroni with a meat/veg/tomato sauce. Once it was all cooked over the campfire, I topped it with cheese and cooked it some more in the oven.

There is no artificial lighting here, and the sky is huge and pitch-black. At about 9:30, George left to attend an astronomy program where he looked through a telescope at different planets and stars.

We are going to South Africa!

CAMPGROUND: Another free night at a Harvest Host site – Beaver Creek Brewery
LOCATION: Wibaux, Montana – in southeast part of Montana
WEATHER: Cool/cold and rainy. High 50. Unpleasant

We were so lucky to have stayed at the Harvest Host site at the Wolf Point Museum last night. When they opened this morning, we went back in to use their internet. Same as yesterday, we were the only customers and the place is immense. We went to the back to a quiet spot, and did a Skype housesitting interview with a couple in South Africa. While traveling, it is hard to find a quiet place with internet. A few minutes after the call, they sent us a note accepting us. Yeah! It will be around Christmas. Now, we can start making some travel plans. We hope to do a safari while we are there, too, and hope to find at least one more assignment, to make the trip worthwhile.

Leaving Wolf Point, we took the Big Sky Backroads Highway. As soon as we got on the highway, a deer jumped in front of the truck. It was a really close miss – by just a few inches. Later, we saw a few herds of pronghorn. We saw very few people or cars, though. Really remote!

Lunch was a hearty cup of soup. In the absence of rest stops, we often use closed truck weighing stations to pull over – long, flat, and convenient. I warmed up the soup on the propane stove. It hit the spot.

We arrived at Beaver Creek Brewery, and got settled in in their parking lot for the free overnight stay.

In this little town, there are about 5 bars plus this brewery. Not much else. Part of the brewery is a nice restaurant with a theater. It has a stage and often has a band or a play. Nothing tonight, though.

We found the town’s museum and went on a guided tour. (The tour guide looked like she hadn’t had any customers in a long while, so we thought we would spice up her day). The tour was of the house where the founder, Frenchman Pierre Wibaux, had lived when he came in to town from his cattle ranch.

About 5:00, the brewery and restaurant started filling up. All of the vehicles in the parking lot were dirty pick-ups, and about every man in the restaurant was wearing a cowboy hat.

We really wanted to eat the good-looking pizza served in the brewery or the restaurant’s Saturday night prime rib special, but we have to use up that darned lake trout.

DINNER: Jambalaya – with shrimp, andouille sausage, green pepper, onion, garlic, and guess what…..chuncks of lake trout! Served over rice.

In the Montana boonies

CAMPGROUND: – Not a campground, but a Harvest Host museum. In their parking lot. Free.
LOCATION: Wolf Point, Montana – in far northeast Montana
WEATHER: Very nice. High 80.

We putzed around Downstream Campground at Fort Peck Reservoir in the morning, and took a 2- mile hike on their nature trail. We roused two large deer. Very nice.

George did his morning yoga routine. Here he is stretching before the exercises. He wears the weirdest clothes combinations!

We only had about 50 miles to go today. Our route took us on Highway 2 – which goes to Minnesota, so we are feeling closer to home! Most of the drive was through an Indian reservation. We stopped at a historic wayside pull-out for a picnic lunch (guess what – fish salad sandwich).. There we read about how smallpox almost wiped the Indians out here.

On to Wolf Point. This town is also part of the Indian reservation, and many people here are obviously Native American. Our Harvest Host site is the town’s museum parking lot. Through, we have stayed (free) at wineries, breweries, and organic farms. This is our first time at a museum. Since it was a hot afternoon, we spent about 2 hours in the museum (very well-done) looking at their offerings, basking in their air conditioning, and using their strong wifi. One of their exhibits….

We walked downtown, under the railroad track, to the town’s brewery. We met the brewer (the owner’s daughter). The server said that this brewery has the largest display of growlers in Montana. We gave them one of ours for their collection, and in turn, they gave us one of theirs – filled with IPA!

We checked out their back patio where a lot of hops were blooming.

The owner and his wife arrived and invited us to join them on the patio. The owner is the town’s only physician. The tasting room is thus called “Doc’z”. He and George seemed to be kindred spirits, and had a long conversation.

Back at the Airstream, the museum staff had gone home, so we had the fairly large parking lot to ourselves.

We set up our propane stove and cooked (what else?) the remaining lake trout. We have A LOT of trout now in the freezer, plus some halibut that I bought before I knew about this fishing trip.

DINNER: Fish burgers, with some of the lake trout. I made them like I make salmon burgers – flaked fish, bread crumbs, mayo, mustard, and eggs. Sides were French fries and cabbage slaw – the last of that darned, big cabbage taking up room in my refrigerator!

Here, fishy fishy

CAMPGROUND: 3rd (and last) night at Downstream Army Corps of Engineers Campground. We continue to like this campground. It is so spread out that we don’t hear neighbors.
LOCATION: Northeast Montana, not far from Canadian border.
WEATHER: Really nice. Mostly sunny. High 75

Today’s mission was to catch fish!

We had arranged a half-day charter fishing trip. We met a fellow Air Streamer in the campground and he went with us, splitting the cost. It seems expensive, but compared to owning and maintaining a boat, it is a good deal. Besides, when you go with a professional, you are almost guaranteed to catch fish.

Almost everyone in our campground has a boat and they alll go out fishing each day. We had to get up early to meet our guide. Everyone else already seemed to be up and getting ready to go, too. We met our guide at 6:30 AM to start our fishng experience.

We had told him that we hoped to catch walleye and Northern pike. So, he took us to the area where they are supposed to be, and we fished with certain rods, weights, and doohickeys on the fishing pole (the guide has a LOT of thingies). I didn’t fish, but enjoyed my book while the guys fished. After about 2 hours, George caught a tiny pike, not big enough to keep. So, we went to another area in the lake and tried again. One got off, but nothing else. So, we went to a 3rd aread to try to catch lake trout, which are abundent in the lake. These are bottom fish, so the guide put on huge cannon-ball-like weights and the line went way down. Here, we had luck. George caught two – one about 8 pounds and the other 15. Here he George, bringing in the whopper…

Scott, our Airstreamer friend, caught a 12-pounder.

Here is a happy guy….

With that success, we headed in around noon. The guide cleaned the fish, and recommended that we soak the trout in milk before cooking. A lot of people won’t eat trout because of its fishy flavor. The entire catch….

We had lunch with Scott at the marina, then returned to the campground. We soaked the fish while George napped.

We have a lot of fish to cook up and freeze. The guide said that trout doesn’t freeze well (I think he meant raw.) We will cook the rest tomorrow night, and then freeze everything we can’t use up soon. I am frantically thinking of how to use it up before we fly out next week.

DINNER: Lake trout, of course! We grilled two big fillets over the campfire.
PHOTO fish on fire
They turned out really well – not sure if it was due to the milk soaking or not. Not too strong. Sides were rice and sauteed cabbage.

BOOK: I finished another book that I had picked up at a campground library. A detective book – “Remains of Innocence” by J.A. Jance. I have read most of her others. Easy reading. 8 out of 10

Exploring Fort Peck Lake

CAMPGROUND: 2nd night at Downstream Army Corps of Engineers Campground

LOCATION: Northeast Montana. Closest town is Glasgow

WEATHER: Very pleasant. High 78

Our campground has a very nice, 2-mile nature trail that we hiked in the morning. It was good to get some much-needed exercise.

Our site is so nice – really spacious.

We checked out a few campgrounds in the area as we have to move on Friday. Some are BLM (Bureau of Land Management) that are free, no-service areas. Others are Army Corps of Engineers for either $2.50 or $9 per night, with our senior discount.

We stopped at the marina for a drink on the deck and for some wifi…

From there, we stopped in the village of Fort Peck. Most of it is under water, after the dam was built. All that is remaining is an old wood hotel and surprisingly, a summer theatre. We stopped at the hotel and chatted with some other customers on the deck.

DINNER: Wouldn’t you know it…..I bought some frozen fish filets the last time we went grocery shopping – halibut, sole, and mahi mahi. Now, we are planning a fishing trip tomorrow, so I had better empty out the freezer in preparation. So, tonight, we had stuffed sole, Stove-Top stuffing, and Asian vegetables. There was a lot of fish left over, so I made fish salad sandwiches for our fishing trip tomorrow.

The best dam tour!

CAMPGROUND: Downstream Army Corps of Engineers Campground (ACOE) at Fort Peck Reservoir. Like all ACOE campgrounds, it is a real bargain. Senior rate is $10/night, and with that, we get a very long, paved site next to a huge grassy area. Neighbors are far away. Electricity at all sites. Central water and dump station. Picnic table and firepit grills at each site. Bathroom is dated, but in good shape with a very good shower. Amphitheater for informational talks, picnic area, and playground. 4 stars out of 5. (I would give it a 5, except that we are not on the lake itself)

LOCATION: Near Glasgow in the far northeast corner of Montana.

WEATHER: Mostly cloudy, but warmer. High 78

We survived the night at the Montana highway rest area. It was very quiet and the bathrooms were open all night. In the morning, these trucks joined us…

We only had about 70 miles to go today to our next destination. We have 3 nights reserved at this campground. The fishing is supposed to be great, and we always like to stay in ACOE campgrounds.

We drove through Badlands-like scenery without any houses until we approached the reservoir. The lake was created by a huge dam on the Missouri River.

After we got set up at the campground, we stopped at the Visitor Center. There is a lot of interesting history here. Lots of info about dinosaurs and how this area was formed.

At the Visitor Center, we signed up for a free tour of the powerhouse at the dam. It was very interesting. This is the world’s largest earthern hydraulic dam – 4 miles long. This is the powerhouse – view from our campground. They make so much energy, that some goes as far as Iowa and Minnesota.

After the tour, we went into town in search of wifi (me) and beer (George). I found the wifi at the town’s quaint library. Like most small town libraries, this is a gem – with friendly staff, lots of children taking advantage of summer reading programs, and teens using their computers. I got caught up with internet business, then joined George at the brewery.

Back at the campground, George made a fire and we sat outside enjoying the beautiful evening. Another Air Stream arrived. We waved a greeting, then later the owner came over to chat with us over the fire. We made plans to go fishing together.

KARMEN’S KITCHEN TIP: As I have said before, I have to be thoughtful about storage and utensils. The salad spinner bowl serves as a fruit/vegetable bowl – on the table when we are set up, and in the microwave for when the trailer is moving. Bread gets stored in the microwave, too, providing a cushion for the bowl

DINNER: Fish tacos. George lightly fried a mahi-mahi fish filet in a skillet over the fire. Inside, I sauteed onion, green pepper, and mushrooms with Mexican spices. To serve, I warmed the tortillas, and then stuffed them with the fish, vegetables, cheese, diced tomatoes, cabbage slivers, salsa, and cilantro. Buenisimo! Side was home-made cabbage slaw (gotta get through that big head of cabbage taking up room in the refrigerator!)

Flat tire!

CAMPGROUND: Not a real campground, but a Montana rest stop!
LOCATION: Near Fort Peck, in northeastern Montana
WEATHER: Cool in the AM. Cloudy. High 75

Last night, George discovered that one of the tires on the pick-up was flat. If it had to happen, this is the best place for it. We were still unhooked, so this morning, he took the truck into a maintenance shop in White Sulphur Springs. It was a real old-timey kind of shop, established in 1919 and still run by the same family.

They kindly squeezed our repair job in.

George, of course, chatted with everyone during the repair. He learned that the shop owners had worked on these cars years ago and then bought them when those customers moved away.

Conastoga Campground has been a nice respite for us. While I was in the office using the wifi, I talked with the volunteer working at the desk. Small world – I found out that she and her husband are workcampers. They will spend the winter workcamping at the RV park next to our park in Mission, Texas. We have thought about workcamping – working in a campground or RV park for 20 hours/week, and getting a free RV site as salary.

While I was using the wifi, I received a message from Trusted Housesitters, the website we use for housesitting. A couple from Mozambique are interested in us! They want to schedule a Skype interview. I hope it works out!

We left White Sulphur Springs about 11:00, heading north and east. Tonight, we didn’t have any camping reservations, and just thought we would drive until we were tired, and find a spot. That was not to be.

We drove about 200 miles through really remote country. I don’t think I have ever seen so much wheat and hay in my life. Bales shaped in every way imaginable – round, small rectangles, large rectangles, some stacked like pyramids. Walls of hay bales. Even the old-fashioned, European-style haystacks.

The farm equipment is huge.

After the hay fields, the landscape became more bleak. Sagebrush was all that was growing. It reminded us of the Saskatchewan or South Dakota Badlands.

About 3:00, we were ready to call it quits for the day. Finally, after another 90 miles, we came to a town. The RV park there was pretty sad and scary looking – falling-down buildings, muddy sites, run-down RVs. No sign of a shower/bathroom. And – $30! Surely, we could do better. In this part of the state, there aren’t many federal or state parks.

I am proud of George. Usually, he likes to let the gas tank get to empty before he buys gas. This drives me crazy!!! As we were leaving this town, he saw a sign saying “next gas 65 miles”. Our gauge said we had 70 miles left in the tank. He made a u-turn, and said we had better fill-up. Yeah!

After another 50 miles or so of nothingness, we stopped at a very nice highway rest area. Brand-new building. Lots of parking. Why not camp here? There were no “no camping” signs. Nice clean, new bathrooms. Level, paved parking. We will see if the police kick us out in the middle of the night…..check tomorrow’s blog!

KARMEN’S KITCHEN TIP: Cupboard space is limited in the Airstream, so I have to be really thoughtful as I pack up each trip. Most kitchenware has to have a dual purpose. Tonight I used the salad spinner. It comes in handy, of course, to wash greens. I buy the greens you have to wash as they are cheaper than the pre-washed salad bags. The spinner also serves as a fruit bowl on the kitchen table, and as a colander.

DINNER: With no outdoor cooking options, I cooked inside. I made a sauteed shrimp dish with lots of garlic and butter. I served it over fettucine. Side was a lettuce (using the spinner) and tomato salad.

Snow in August?

CAMPGROUND: 2nd night at Conastoga Campground
LOCATION: White Sulphur Springs, Montana – in south central part of state
WEATHER: Cool. High 60. Cloudy in AM; Thunderstorms in PM

Today’s plan was a day trip to Gates of the Mountains Wilderness Area. As we drove through the Helena National Forest and the city of Helena, we saw some white stuff on the ground. We wonderingly asked “Is that snow?” We said, “no, it couldn’t be” and assumed that it was cottonwood puffs. As we traveled on, we saw that the white stuff was melting. We finally realized that the thunderstorm we experienced during the night had been a huge hail and snow storm in this area. Wow!

Several people had recommended Gates of the Mountains boat ride to us.

It is a big reservoir that had been part of the Missouri River when Lewis and Clark explored here.

The two-hour boat ride was very informative and beautiful.

As we ended up the trip, serious black clouds started blowing in. We were happy to be back on shore.

We drove through heavy rain back to Helena, where we had lunch at the Lewis & Clark Brewpub. (We thought that was appropriate since we heard so much of their history on the boat ride).

Back at the campground, we took advantage of the comforts here – laundry and showers, as we leave all this tomorrow.

KARMEN’S KITCHEN TIP: Tonight’s dinner included chicken. I had thawed the remaining chicken thigh that George had grilled last week. This is the 4th meal from the chicken thigh package. Each time I used the chicken, I froze the bones and skin. Today, since it was cool, I made chicken broth. Slow-cooking the bones and skin for about an hour turned the Airstream cozy and warm. I will use the broth soon for rice and/or grits.

DINNER: Flatbread again. I had planned something else, but we couldn’t cook outside due to the heavy rain, so went with this menu idea. Tonight’s version of flatbreads was Mexican. I toasted the lavash (flatbread piece) on the George Foreman grill. To assemble, I slathered on salsa, and topped it with chicken pieces, bell pepper, onion, and cheese. I zapped it in the microwave to melt the cheese and to warm everything up. I served it with cilantro. Salad and corn on the cob on the side. Muy bueno! (3 more flatbreads to go in the freezer!) 🙂