The Motorhome Migration
Apryle and I started a new chapter in our lives, as we embarked on our great motor home adventure. We purchased a 1991 23-foot Ford Jamboree and packed it with our belongings and hit the road. Our plan was to travel across the northern part of the country en route to Ohio/Pennsylvania to visit our families over the holidays. My father even flew out to Seattle to join us on the daunting 2400 mile journey.
We finished packing the RV and Versa and fired the engines Thursday December 14th. Apryle drove the car, and was accompanied by our Green Cheek Conure, Darwin and our two Budgerigars, Banjo and June, while Dad and I started the first leg in the motorhome. Fortunately our trip across Washington was uneventful, there was no snow on Snoqualmie Pass, and the traffic was minimal. We transitioned from the green forested hills of the Cascades to the tan scorched earth of the Columbia Basin scablands, all the while refueling and alternating driving duties. We crossed into Idaho as the sun was setting and meandered our way over the winding mountain highway through Coeur d’Alene and Lolo NF.
We crested both 4th of July Pass and Lookout Pass before entering Montana and descending to the Clark Fork River Valley. Upon entering Montana the road weaves around the river, crossing it on several dozen occasions. A rest area outside of Anaconda served as a regrouping point where we organized the camper for our first night on the road. Anaconda was founded 1883 and served as a location for a smelter for copper ore processing. The town also boasted the worlds tallest masonry structure in the form of a 585 foot smoke stack. I went for a quick 5 kilometer run around the rest stop and stumbled upon the Copperway Regional Trail. Unfortunately the trail was only a quarter mile lollipop loop around a barren snow-covered steppe but it was perfect for a quick night run in the frigid winter cold.
We finished out day one in a parking lot in Butte, MT and unfortunately at this point we forgot to turn on our carbon monoxide detector; rendering our heater unusable. In order to keep our birds warm in the 10 degree cold Apryle and I positioned the Budgerigar cage in between us and the Conure snuggled in the crook of my neck. My dad burst into laughter after seeing our uncomfortable arrangement. We slept horribly but we managed to keep our feathered friends warm and cozy in our first night in the RV.
The second day was characterized by gusty crosswinds as we traversed the intermountain west scabland steppe. The landscape was barren but punctuated by interesting rock formations and the occasional cluster of trees lining a stream. We finally crossed the border into North Dakota in the waning hours of daylight. We made a stop at Theodore Roosevelt National Park and I immediately hit the trail to soak in the remaining hours of light. The scenery was similar to that of Wind Cave and Badlands National Park, everywhere I saw sign of Bison but did not catch a glimpse of the mega fauna.
The national park explains in great detail the formation of the area, but to briefly summarize, during the Pleistocene Epoch or the time period with multiple Ice Ages, massive ice sheets traveled southward to the present day northern boundary of the park. This blocked north flowing rivers, which were forced to change course eastward and flow into the Mississippi River instead of Hudson Bay. When the ice retreated, the Missouri and Little Missouri Rivers were already established in their new channels. However, the Little
Missouri’s new course northward followed a steep path which allowed it to flow quickly and carve deeply into the landscape. The soft sedimentary rock was easily eroded by the Little Missouri and its tributaries leading to the unique badlands broken topography.
Because of time restrictions I decided to simply do a 8 mile out and back as opposed to a larger loop. I jumped on the Painted Canyon Trail, which started as wide straight path before diving down a ravine leading to Paddock Creek. The trail was rutted out and obscured by numerous game paths that made route finding challenging at times. There was a patchy snow speckling the landscape and when mixed with thick slippery mud it became challenging to keep footing in the waterless draws. Running in such an odd place made for an eerie evening as darkness gradually enveloped my surroundings.
We hopped back in the vehicles and made our way further into the interior of North Dakota and found a reasonable motel in the town of Dickinson. Here we were revived with some healthy meals and hot showers.
The drive through North Dakota was uneventful, with the exception of the collection of worlds largest sculptures along I-94. After passing the worlds largest Holstein Cow we decided to stop at the home of the worlds largest Buffalo – Jamestown. This town actually had an impressive trail network, highlighted by the White Cloud Nature Trail. Apryle and I ran the town streets from the truck stop over to McElroy Park. Once in the park we discovered a wooden bridge crossing the James River that lead to a narrow wooded trail network. The path crisscrossed in a series of loops and the undulations were slick and ice covered. We took the wider path up to the worlds largest Buffalo, posed under the massive sculpture and then continued on the White Cloud trail back toward the truck stop. From the wooded trail, the landscape gave way to a large pasture where the Buffalo Heard and Albino Buffalo roam during the summer months.
After running with the Buffalo’s, we finished out our time in North Dakota, quickly passing through Minnesota and then finishing out the day in a parking lot in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Fortunately, the heating situation was resolved and the heater worked all evening allowing us and the birds to sleep comfortably in the RV.
The first leg of the fourth day consisted of a drive to the Ice Age Trailhead at Kettle Moraine State Forest (Lapham Peak Unit) in Delafield, Wisconsin. The weather was overcast and cool, and there was just an occasional patch of snow on the trail. The first few miles wound around a vast prairie which gave way to thickly wooded hillsides. In contrast to the sea of grasses and the walls of tree trunks there was the occasional iced over kettle pond. The trail was well maintained and even featured several long boardwalks through wetland areas. I finished up the run in the charming town of Delafield and we continued the journey.
The surrounding landscape of Delafield was a result of retreating glaciers, which is the namesake for the trail I followed. Lapham Peak is the center piece of Kettle Moraine State Park; the hill is 1233 feet and features a 45 foot observation tower which offers panoramic views of the surrounding area. Lapham Peak is a kame or an irregularly shaped hill composed of sand, gravel and till that was deposited on the land after accumulating in a depression on a retreating glacier. In addition to the kame, the park also featured moraines (accumulation of glacial debris), eskers (long winding ridges of stratified gravel and sand), and kettles (shallow sediment filled bodies of water).
The forest make up has been altered greatly post European settlement due to fire suppression. The historic Oak Openings have become dense hardwood forest and even the moraines and plains have become forested. This southern Dry-mesic forest is dominated by White, Northern Red and Bur Oaks, and accompanied by Shagbark Hickory, American Elm and Black Cherry. There are also a fair amount of White and Red Pine that dot the landscape. Fortunately in this unit there is a vast savanna featuring Lead-Plant, Illinois Tick-Trefoil, Big Blue Stem and Prairie Drop Seed. Overall I was impressed with the beauty of the trails and the state of Wisconsin in general.
The last leg of journey was southeastward as we exited Wisconsin into Illinois, then into Indiana, and then finally as the sun was setting on the fourth and final day – Ohio. We were back on familiar roads and after four straight 600+ mile days we could finally rest both our ankle plantarflexors and the impressive machines that made quick work of the pilgrimage that used to require years. My mother welcomed us home to Tiffin with a roaring fire and a plate of cookies.