WY: Devil’s Tower – 06/27/2016 – 06/29/2016

Devils Tower, WY

Parking: Belle Fourche Campground
Rating: 10

There’s a KOA right outside the entrance to Devil’s Tower National Monument; it is crowded and expensive. The campground inside the park is nice, spread-out, and cheap (but no hook-ups). Every evening, the park service has a presentation on different topics. We saw one about the people, beliefs, and geology of the tower and another one about the crazy town of prairie dogs on site.

The geology of the area is quite interesting, and the walking tour we took was really nice. The tour guide was a biology student working the park during the summer, and her daughter and husband were at the park to visit her and took the tour with us. On the tour, we also met a really nice family from Australia (mom and the kids were Aussie; dad was originally from Montana). They are taking over a year to RV around the country and show the kids all the sites, so we swapped RVing stories while walking.

We met lots of other folk at the campground. One family recognized the sailboat (that we had dropped at the separate trailer parking area) from having passed us on the road earlier, and they came looking for our rig, and we had a good conversation with them.

We met another couple who were in a Cricket (if you are looking for a small tag-along RV, seriously take a look at the Cricket; it’s a great design and well-built. I first saw it on one of the RV TV shows, and it was nice to see one in person). It turned out that we had a lot of things in common – including both of us ladies having been on the rowing team at my alma mater (but she went on to be in the Olympics where I dropped it from too much work and general lack of skill). Also, there was a gentleman there whose family actually founded our college over 250 years ago, so it was pretty cool to hear his stories, too.

Devils Tower, WY

Devils Tower, WY

Devils Tower, WY

(prairie dogs – nearly 600 in the 40 acre Prairie Dog Town)

Devils Tower, WY

Devils Tower, WY

Devils Tower, WY

Devils Tower, WY

(nice cliche shot through the Spirit Smoke)

Devils Tower, WY

WY: Burgess Junction – 06/23/2016 – 06/27/2016

Burgess Junction, WY

Parking: Bear Lodge Resort
Rating: 9

Free dispersed camping in the Bighorn National Forest is excellent, but we decided to stay at a cheap little RV park to have access to showers. To get there, the road is winding and steep, so it was slow-going. Along the way, there are signs describing the various geological formations and how long ago they were formed and some of them were 500 million years old.

We spent some time on the motorcycles on several of the forestry roads. The scenery is excellent, and we saw an old splash mill and some moose. We walked up to the top of a dam for a drinking water reservoir; for servicing such a small population, the dam and resulting lake are very large and beautiful, and we were impressed.

The Wyo State Patrol had their convention at the Resort while we there, so we figured it was probably the safest place in the state to be.

We met a lovely Park volunteer who told us about her and her husband’s thirty years of full-time RVing and all the places they visited. He passed away 18 months ago, and she had moved back to their home base of Tampa. She was lunching with her lady friends and watching the Bucs’ games at the local pub when she realized that she hated that lifestyle and wanted to be back out in the wild. She couldn’t do the RVing thing anymore at her age alone, so she decided to volunteer at the Park despite all her friends thinking she was crazy.

Just before the steep trip back down the mountains, we had an engine light come on – that is not at all reassuring, and going down the 12 miles of 8% grade was especially nerve-wracking with the worry. In Sheridan, we picked up a code reader, and it turned out to be just some blip with the velocity sensor (i.e., absolutely no big deal) which was a great relief.

Burgess Junction, WY

Burgess Junction, WY

Burgess Junction, WY

Burgess Junction, WY

Burgess Junction, WY

Burgess Junction, WY

Burgess Junction, WY

(splash dam)

Burgess Junction, WY

(moose hidden in there – didn’t get closer because moose are dangerous)

Burgess Junction, WY

Burgess Junction, WY

Burgess Junction, WY

Burgess Junction, WY

Burgess Junction, WY

Burgess Junction, WY

Burgess Junction, WY

Burgess Junction, WY

WY: Ranchester – 06/22/2016 – 06/23/2016

Ranchester, WY

Parking: Connor Battlefield Campsite
Rating: 9

Ranchester must be the friendliest place in Wyo. We pulled into town, and as we were parking in front of the Visitor Center, a gentleman pulled up alongside and started telling us all about Connor Battlefield park, the Bighorn mountains, and local shopping. He talked with us for quite a while, and even offered to give us a lift to the grocery store so we didn’t have to take the rig (nothing creepy – he was really nice). He went to Connor while we popped into the Visitor Center to make sure there was room for us.

The park was another excellent place to stay. The pull-through lots were nicely maintained and were a reasonable distance apart. There were only three other sites occupied, so it was nice and quiet.

At twilight, we saw five owls across the road from our site. One of them swooped down and caught some kind of rodent and took it up into a tree. One of the others fought him for it, but it was too dark to see which ended up with the prize.

Ranchester, WY

Ranchester, WY

MT: Across I-90 – 06/20/16 – 06/22/16

MT

WoW: Plaguelands (de-plagued)

Parking: Econolodge – Missoula, MT
Rating: 7

Parking: Rest Area – Bozeman, MT
Rating: 10

After Flathead Lake, we decided to head to Wyoming by crossing I-90. We stayed a night in a hotel in Zoo Town to take some good showers and do laundry, and then we overnighted at a Rest Area in Bozeman (not the one pictured). These were mostly just driving days.

MT

MT

MT

Rave:
Montana is fantastic. The no sales tax on anything makes you feel like you are getting a discount on everything you buy. They do have an income tax, but either this state is in a big financial hole, or they really know how to squeeze their dollars. For a state that is covered with snow for a significant part of the year, the roads are in excellent shape (they were re-paving I-90 even though its current condition was far better than any interstate in WA). The rest areas are beautiful – the stalls at many of them are individual rooms with granite wall tile and are as clean as possible. The city parks are well-kept and in fantastic locations. The streets are clean, and (in the cities we drove through) businesses were thriving and the administrative buildings were attractive.

I’m sure Montanans complain about things like I complain about Washington, but from this tourist’s perspective, it looked pretty sweet.

If you are looking for a new place to live, you might want to do some research on Kalispell. The city pretty much has everything you need (or if it doesn’t, it probably is under construction). It’s near Flathead Lake (the largest freshwater natural lake in the West) and snow skiing. There are mountains, hills, and plains nearby. Housing is cheap. They have some excellent health care facilities.

MT: Flathead Lake – 06/15/2016 – 06/20/2016

Finley Point, Montana

Parking: Finley Point State Park
Rating: 4
WoW: Grizzly Hills

A few years ago, we stopped at Flathead Lake on our trip to Glacier Park. We had not brought the boat with us, and we massively regretted it. Ever since then, we’ve been talking about sailing on Flathead, so a couple weeks before closing on the sale of our house, we made our only reservation so far to ensure we’d get a space. Finley Point is the only State Park that has both RV parking and a marina.

The marina is very pretty, but it’s not laid out particularly well. The main thoroughfare is open to the center of the lake, so any wave action goes straight down the slips. Also, the docks are not floating and they use rails instead of cleats, so it’s very easy for a boat to catch its gunwale under the rail during a storm. We knew we had to be extra careful because an intense storm was forecast in a couple of days.

The sailing ended up being pretty great. We did some playing around close to the park and circumnavigated Wild Horse Island (saw no wild horses). The winds were pretty consistent, and we didn’t have to do a lot of motoring until we got hungry and wanted to head back fast.

On Saturday, since the forecast was calling for 3′ waves, we went ahead and pulled the boat out of the marina and left it rigged in the parking lot. The day was absolutely pleasant – no storms in sight and the deadline for the warning was almost up. We felt pretty stupid for overreacting. We were watching some folk paddleboard and kayak while playing a board game when it started to mist, so we took the game inside. A half-hour later, it was howling outside. We peeked out, and there was a power boater bucking right off shore. We went to check on the sailboat (she was fine), and we watched the power boater’s friend back the trailer in the water while the boat was jumping trying to get loaded. We found out that the storm had been so sudden, it caught everyone in the marina off guard. The power boat’s dock lines snapped, so the owner had to go out and rescue it in the storm. We didn’t feel so stupid after that. It a weird storm because although the lake was absolutely thrashing, the sky was fairly blue, and it never did do anything heavier than mist.

Sunday, we were back in the water and had another great day sailing.

Finley Point, Montana

Finley Point, Montana

Finley Point, Montana

Finley Point, Montana

Finley Point, Montana

Finley Point, Montana

Finley Point, Montana

Finley Point, Montana

Finley Point, Montana

Finley Point, Montana

Finley Point, Montana

Finley Point, Montana

Finley Point, Montana

Finley Point, Montana

Finley Point, Montana

Finley Point, Montana

Finley Point, Montana

Finley Point, Montana

Finley Point, Montana

Finley Point, Montana

Rant:
When we arrived, things looked really good in the RV park. There were only two other RVs (quiet and obviously retired full-timers), and no other boats in the marina. We launched easily and got unpacked. Our only beef was that the RV spaces are NARROW – we could not even extend the awning. The lots include a very small grassy area behind the parking space on the lake shore with a picnic table and a fire pit.

The next day was completely different. Every single RV space ended up being filled (and it was nerve-wracking watching folk back up their RVs in the spaces next us to make sure they didn’t hit us). We thought the Koocanusa marina RV park was crowded, but it was wide open compared to how it ended up here. I expected better of the group from Hope Church (www.hopechurchmt.com), but they let their numerous children and dogs run absolutely wild, took over our meager space (and picnic table) with their toys and hammocks, left their garbage all over, and blasted their music. Dog crap was everywhere, and the kids were swimming in the marina (which is HIGHLY dangerous with a fixed dock and strong waves – a child can easily get trapped under the dock, and no one would ever see) despite a sign every 10′ warning folk not to swim.

A couple days later, the camp host kindly let us move a couple of spaces over, but in came a whole new batch of rude folk. These people let their dogs AND kids crap all over – seriously, it was disgusting.

It is very obvious when an RV has full-time folk and when it has weekenders. Full-timers train their pets and children to be respectful of other RVers. We all have very little space and not much sound control, and a little respect goes a long way. The weekenders clearly do not care whom they inconvenience, and the posted rules are only for other people.

We have learned our lesson and in the future, we will limit our exposure with densely populated campgrounds no matter how much we may want to be in the area. We are just too set in our ways to put up with too much chaos and garbage.

MT: Libby – 06/09/2016 – 06/15/2016

Libby, MT

Parking: Dunn Creek Flats
Rating: 10
WoW: Hinterlands

There are several free sites around Libby Dam on the Kootenai River, and they are really nice. The river is lovely, the sheriff checks in every day and you can watch the fishers pull in some nice sized trout.

We had some nice conversations with a gentleman who had been full-timing for years in his custom converted horse trailer. His rig is a really nice idea because horse trailers are built so much more robust than a normal RV, and the horse stall area can be used for toys. He kept his motorcycle and beautiful wooden boat (that he built himself) in there. If we hadn’t needed the ability to pull the sailboat, I think we would have gone with a similar solution.

We went motorcycle riding up to the dam and along Lake Koocanusa. Despite it being a weekend, there was almost no one on the road or in the primitive camping sites. Then we stopped at the RV park at the marina (just to have a look around), and apparently that’s where ALL the tourists go. It was PACKED with people. We were flummoxed. There are so many beautiful, peaceful places around, but folk were choosing to pay to be in the crowd. Oh well, more free space for us!

Libby, MT

Libby, MT

Libby, MT

Libby, MT

Libby, MT

Libby, MT

Libby, MT

Libby, MT

Libby, MT

Libby, MT

Libby, MT

Libby, MT

Libby, MT

Libby, MT

Rant:
There were rules posted all over about keeping dogs on a 6′ leash or keeping them fully restrained (and not allowing them to impede the enjoyment of the land by others). We went on a walk over to the dumpster, and at the site 100′ away come two aggressive dogs straight at us. We just stopped cold while the owner ineffectually kept calling out to them to “git over here.” They continued to growl and get closer and closer to us until I was sure we were going to have to kick at them (we had left the pepper spray and camera in the RV) when the owner was finally able to catch them. I do not care if you think your dogs are “just playing” – I do not want your beasts touching me. Keep them inside if you cannot keep control of them. Next time, they either get sprayed, shot or reported.

ID: Lake Pend Oreille (Ponderay) – 06/04/2016 – 06/09/2016

Ponderay, ID

Parking: Bonner County State Fairgrounds
Rating: 10

Since the gas-powered outboard motor was no longer functional on the sailboat and since we weren’t sure if the Torqueedo (electric outboard) would be able to power us back up Johnson Creek, we needed to get a new motor (also, we were ready to upgrade to a 6 hp), so it was time to move to a place where there was some cell phone coverage. The Fairgrounds is a very nice RV park with treed and grassy lots and Schweitzer in the background. It was about 1/3 filled, and it seemed like all of them were either full-timers or full-seasoners. Rick called around and found a motor – back in Spokane. Grrrr. We did NOT want to be going back to Washington so soon.

The motor mount on the sailboat had been shortened by the original owner, so we needed a longer one. The workshop just had it’s first task!

The sailboat hadn’t been in the water for almost three years, and this was the first launching using the RV. The Sandpoint city boat launch was hopping for a week day; apparently everyone was getting their dry-docked boats delivered to their slips for the season. There were plenty of nerves, but all went way more smoothly than we were expecting, and we were finally in the water again.

Boating on Pend Oreille is fantastic. It’s a beautiful lake, and we had fair winds. We kept the boat at the city marina so we didn’t have to spend so much time re-rigging and re-launching. The second day, we sailed up to East Hope on the north shore to have a spot of lunch. The next morning, we planned on taking the boat out early in the day to avoid the crowds, and we ended up taking out our lighting rod just as a thunderstorm rolled through. For not having done that in years, we got it out of the water and de-rigged amazingly quickly.

Ponderay, ID

Ponderay, ID

Ponderay, ID

Ponderay, ID

Ponderay, ID

Ponderay, ID

Ponderay, ID

ID: Lake Pend Oreille (Clark Fork) – 06/01/2016 – 06/04/2016

Clark Fork, ID

Parking: Johnson Creek
Rating: 10

We had originally planned on going to the Clark Fork Drift Yard, but it was closed for breeding geese (because if there’s one thing of which the NW needs more, it’s Canada geese), so we headed to nearby Johnson Creek. This is a property owned by the Army Corps of Engineers, and it has a nice little boat launch and a couple of beautiful camping spots. It has a three day camping limit, but the other two RVs seemed to have already been there a while, and they were they after we left, so I don’t think it’s enforced.

The boat launch is pretty heavily used, but we did not end up launching because our 2.5 hp motor on the sailboat blew an oil seal. We did some canoeing/kayaking and some motorcycle riding pretty much spreading out as large as possible.

It has been really nice finding these free, beautiful, non-crowded locations. I’m sure things will change when we hit the East Coast, but so far, it has been great. Since we have plenty of solar power, we don’t require electrical hook-ups (or have to be the obnoxious folk that run the generator all day), so it gives us a lot of location options.

Clark Fork, ID

Clark Fork, ID

Clark Fork, ID

Clark Fork, ID

Clark Fork, ID

Clark Fork, ID

Clark Fork, ID

Clark Fork, ID

WA: Spokane – 05/30/2016 – 06/01/2016

Parking: Rodeway Inn
Rating: 6

There were a few things that we needed to handle, so we needed to be in civilization for a couple of days. Unfortunately, one of the things that needed doing was me going to the dentist because I had a very painful molar.

Hopefully, we won’t be spending too much time in motels, but it’s nice to have a real shower once in a while.