Monday, October 13, 2008

Canadian Prairie and Visit with Tim

Today's blog was written by Kathy.

Never having been to the Canadian provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba, we decided to make a “push” to Aurora, Illinois from Drumheller, Alberta, just in case the weather would deteriorate. 9/28/08- Driving up and out of the canyon where Drumheller is located we were back up on the rolling prairies of Alberta. Wheat fields in various stages of harvest for hundreds of miles. That night we stayed at Trail Camp Ground in Swift Current, Saskatchewan. The sites were so unlevel, pointing the nose of the fifth wheel downhill that we had to unhitch the truck to level out the trailer.

The next morning we were off by 10:00 AM, traveling past more prairies and wheat fields, staying the night at Fieldstone Campground, in Moosemin, Saskatchewan. Since we were just staying the night, we just leveled the trailer and stayed hitched to the truck.  It was a quiet, off the main highway park, though their roads needed some work before next season! 

With the signs along the highway being in English and French, we learned that the word “prairie” is really French for “grasslands”.  Maybe because a lot of the trappers that explored this region in the late 1700’s were French, they left behind the names in French for navigating back to eastern Canada. You learn something new every day!

OK, now we can add Saskatchewan to our map of Canadian Provinces, on to Manitoba. Heading south the highway deteriorated rapidly. This was a concrete surface, heavily traveled by semis coming and going into Canada from the US and vice versa. Each slab of concrete was beveled, sort of concave, which caused this bouncing harmonics between the truck and the trailer! The worst part was the 63 miles to the US border! Will it ever end?!

At the US Customs Inspection Station there was lots of confusion. The various stalls where you stop at had jack hammers drilling away at concrete!  The inspector would ask us the usual questions: how long were you in Canada? Where are you going from here? Why? (We’re US citizens why are they asking where are you going?  He could see we had Texas plates!) But as Grant answered, the guy would turn away, totally distracted! Since we were towing a trailer, we had to pull forward and have the agricultural inspector board the trailer. She went through the fridge, checked the fruit basket.

We had told her we only had one banana, no raw beef, a package of chicken, frozen in its original wrapper, she checked for said items.  Then came the real question:  what about the food for your dog? “Oh yes, we have kibble made in the US.”  To which she asked, “Is it in its original bag?”  “No, we only had the little bit left in the bag, I didn’t know I would need it to cross the border, so I trashed it!”  So Raider’s special kibble was confiscated, and she told us, “You know you need to have everything written down as to what food you carry BEFORE crossing the border!”  No, we didn’t know that, but at least we knew what we had to recite to her. Without internet connections for the last couple of days we couldn’t check to see what the latest changes to the list of items you could or could not bring back into the US! I wanted to tell her, “This isn’t a usual daily routine for us to go between the 2 countries,” but held my tongue so she wouldn’t insist on a Full Inspection of the trailer, where we would have to open the slides!! Homeland Security certainly has been beefed up at the Canadian Border compared to previous trips!

One thing for sure, we were glad to get under way and on a better surface of highway!  We were in North Dakota, another state for the map and lot greener than I would have expected! The fields were green with sugar beets and corn for miles of rolling prairie.  That night we stopped in Grand Forks, North Dakota.  We had the name for an rv park, a former KOA, but the Garmin GPS directed us left off the highway exit and into a residential area, plus the phone number was bogus, so we couldn’t call for directions. After retracing our tracks back to the highway and calling 411 on our Verizon cell, we got the correct number. All we had to do was turn right off the highway and there was a sign for the campground.  YES! Stupid Garmin!  We were so tired at this point, we didn’t care that the highway was adjacent to the campground. Just park it and use ear plugs tonight! Staying hitched up made for a quicker “get away” in the morning!

Traveling south through North Dakota we continued past rolling green fields and then into Minnesota. Another state to add to our map! We stayed 2 nights in Clearwater, just next to St, Cloud, Minnesota.  It is about 40 miles from Minneapolis/St. Paul.  After all of the driving, Grant needed to catch up on some rest and I had to get some laundry done, 5 loads worth! Plus it was a beautiful rv park, with fall colors starting to turn the leaves and away from the noise of the highway! Several seasonal trailers were parked on the outskirts, where people come for their weekend hideaway. It was formerly a KOA, but restored nicely and not run-down like we saw in Grand Forks.  

The next morning we were rolling southeast down to Wisconsin. Yes, you guessed it, another state for the map! The prairie became more like rolling hills, lots of cows grazing. Now they must be the Real Happy Cows, despite the California ads! These were lush fields for the huge dairy farms, making Wisconsin famous for their cheese. We saw several places along the way enticing us to their cheese chalets.  I was hoping to find one of those places that had frozen custards, but I guess those are found more in the cities. Driving the trailer through cities does not thrill us. We try to take EVERY bypass around cities, including Minneapolis.  Especially after the Bypass for Calgary, Alberta was a nightmare, it took us down the middle of the city!

Since it is pretty close to the end of the camping season, finding open campgrounds was still a challenge. Near the Wisconsin Dells we found the Country Roads Campground, a half mile from the highway, a very nice park and since we were staying just the night, we didn’t have to unhitch, saving us time in the morning.  It was even within walking distance of a Super Wal-Mart!  Whoohoo! Now we could purchase that cheap American beer! Plus a few items to get us by for a few days. With the DirecTV working we could get The Weather Channel forecast, and things looked good going south to Illinois!

Saturday we were up and out of the campground by the crack of 10 AM, heading for Illinois. The weather was gorgeous again! Our son, Tim, told us the first 2 weeks of October was a very good time to visit Illinois, most of the heat and humidity of summer would be over. He was right! More fields of corn in various stages of harvest zoomed past us. By 3:00 we were in Hide-A-Way Lakes Campground in Yorkville, IL, about 10 miles west of Aurora where Tim lives.  Oh my goodness! He had emailed us photos of the place, a few weeks earlier, it was very unique, though the area we were in looked nice! Several trailers looked permanently parked, perhaps retired people stayed here. But then there were some trailers in other parts that looked like they had been abandoned!  Oh well, the next closest campground was Jellystone Park, it was twice as expensice and another 10 miles farther away from Aurora. We checked for availability and they didn’t have any full hook-up sites, we would just have to make do here.

Before we could bring out the slides, Tim and his roommate, Allen, were parked right next to us, intrigued with our Montana. They were definitely curious as to how we could live in this RV while traveling all over the country. As they sat in our comfy Lazy Boy recliners they agreed that it appeared roomy enough, and appreciated all of the cabinet space to store stuff!  Then we were off to see their new house in Aurora. Talk about “housing boom”! It was incredible all of the new subdivisions that seemed to sprout up where corn fields were just a few years ago!  

That night I had one request for dinner: Chicago style pizza! So the guys took us out to Giordano’s and it was delicious!!  I couldn’t believe how thick it was! One piece and I was full! It was fun getting caught up and reminiscing about some of our family camp outs in the VW Country Homes.

We then had the daunting task of returning to the campground, as the guys went home.  The roads are very dark on those country lanes, so Grant had to use the high beams to find our turn off. Oh wow, our poor truck, the pot holes we had to take it through because there weren’t any flat areas. Plus, we had to deal with a security guard at the gate. If you didn’t have a special decal you weren’t allowed in! It turns out that the sheriff had to make a bust there last weekend when there was a rash of break-ins! Tremendous! Later we found out that some of the “residents” were prime suspects and were fortunately now gone!  Never a dull moment!

Over the next 6 days we would visit over at Tim’s during the afternoon and evening. They have every kind of video game imaginable, plus it is viewed on a humongous screen that’s about 72” wide and 5’10” high!  What a giggle fest we had as Grant and I attempted “Rock Band”.  Talk about Karaoke kicked up a notch!! For those who don’t know, in this game you play tricked out guitars, where you have to play the colored notes on the stem according to the screen, plus strum a bar where the strings would be! I have never played any of these games before, except for my Nintendo DS, which Tim got us for our birthdays! (That’s what we were waiting to arrive back in Fairbanks, at the end of June, via Federal Express!) There are also vocals to follow along, guitar section and drums.  Allen did drums quite well, that looked too involved to attempt!  Then we got to play with the Wii! After seeing all of those commercials, I can appreciate the fun this video game generates for all ages!  What fun! Getting to be a kid with your kid! No age difference, just try to keep up with everyone else and have a fun time!

Then in the evening it was the thrill of returning to the campground. We never knew if we would have power, often it had been off while we were gone! We could tell because the DVR would or would not have a recording at a certain time. One day we didn’t have water either . It turns out they were “winterizing the plumbing”, without notifying us that the water would be turned back on some time later when they were finished!  Later that same day we lost power! The campground caretaker was trying to pass it off as our problem in our wiring, not the campground’s electrical system! To our advantage, the only other rig in the campground was right next to us, they were Disaster Recovery Claims Adjustors. They had an entire supply of voltage meters and proved it wasn’t our electrical but the campground’s problem. They then went on to describe that just a few weeks earlier, thanks to Hurricane Ike, the area we were camped in was under water, totally flooded.  Hmm, are we surprised that we hadn’t been told? No!

Next time we will heed the campground reviews, despite it being the only park within close proximity to where we want to be!!

With the campground a little muddy still, there was another storm coming in on Saturday, so we said our farewells to Tim and Allen Thursday evening and bugged out on Friday morning.  I didn’t want the trailer mired down if it happened to rain real hard. The truck has 4 wheel-drive to pull it, but not the trailer! Looking for a campground about 230 miles from Aurora we found Red Barn Rendevous in Edwardsville, IL. A very nice, though small campground, we asked for a site that was as far away from the highway. There was a really tall corn field to the right of the park and the other fields surrounding it were soybean plants.  Very unique, low growing plants with the pods still attached.  Finally, we found out what the short field was that the farmers along the way had been harvesting.  I had never seen soybean plants before. Locusts were singing away in the trees on the other side of the park. Another new experience.  Fortunately, we didn’t have those same kind of trees near us!

The temperature was warmer and more humid than the previous week. Not hot enough to run the AC all night, so we propped up the Breeze fan on the dresser and enjoyed a cool comfortable night’s sleep. The white noise it created drowned out the highway sounds.

The next morning was warm with blue cornflower skies. We skirted around St. Louis, going south on Hwy 44, though we were able to see the St. Louis Arch across the river! Crossing over the Mississippi, we were now in Missouri. Grant had remembered the Meramac Caverns were about 64 miles southwest of St. Louis, so we only had a little over 100 miles to travel.  The nicest campground open was the Cross-Eyed Cricket KOA. Nicely kept and with barely 30 rv sites. We took the last site on the end right next to a large meadow. Full hook-ups, 30 amp power, water and sewer, with a pet walk area nearby!  This is what a campground should really be like!

Sunday it was up in the mid-80’s with a real high humidity level! What better way to spend the day than by exploring caves, which are a constant 60 degrees all year long! They had a very nice tour through the caverns. However, after going through Carlsbad Caverns in April, it wasn’t as impressive here. Less rock formations and only one tunnel is shown. They do the funky light show at the end, but don’t have all of the colored lights they used to have. Grant remembers going through here in 1967, while on a trip back east to visit his grandparents in Johnstown, PA.  It would be a nice break after sitting in a car for hours. They used to do more light shows, but discovered that algae grow in caves where there is any kind of light. This ruins the cave formations.

Just 5 miles over is the town of Sullivan and they are really growing. They have a brand new Super Wal-Mart, so we had to stock up the pantry and fridge, no doubt!  Grant also stopped to fill up the fuel tank and diesel was down to $3.45 a gallon!  Wow, such a deal after those high prices in Canada and Alaska!!  Back at the rig we changed into shorts for the first time since Fairbanks, AK on the 4th of July!

We lucked out as the remnants of Hurricane Norbert zoomed north just west of us, but on Monday we woke up to overcast and the temp in the 70’s. Oddly enough the humidity didn’t feel as high, so we decided to stay an extra day so we can figure out where to go next! There have been a few sprinkles, so that’s a good excuse to work on the computer for a change!


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