We left Camp Murray on the Tuesday after Labor Day (September 7). We had a variety of stops planned, some quick overnights in truck stops and Walmarts, combined with longer stays in established campgrounds.
Our first significant stop was in Montana. A couple of years ago we celebrated our wedding anniversary with a wine tasting and rafting trip on the Clark Fork River with Pangaea River Rafting in Superior, MT, near Missoula. We decided to try their white water rafting this time. I have decided one benefit of rafting late in the season is you may be the only ones in the raft! On both trips, we signed up for a public trip and ended up getting a private trip.
Our river guide was Holli and she was great, very professional and personable. She kept us entertained with a running commentary on the river and other sights. The water levels were lower than spring and early summer, but it was still fun. The water may not have been as fast, but there were more rocks exposed, or just below the surface. That made it entertaining. This river trip included a lunch on shore. Holli pulled us onto a small beach and proceeded to get things set up while Pat and I explored along the shore. What a delicious lunch! Grilled chicken salad with chocolate brownies, made fresh that morning for dessert!
We camped at the nearby Quartz Flats National Forest Campground. This is a unique campground in that you enter it through a highway rest area. There are loops of the campground on both the east and westbound sides with a tunnel that connects them. There are no utilities in the campground so we fired up our generators for electrical power.
After two overnights in a truck stop in Bozeman, MT and a Walmart in Sheridan, WY, we arrived at Ellsworth AFB in Box Elder, SD. This was not a random stop. We are members of Americas Mailbox, a mail forwarding service that provides us with a legal physical address as well as forwarding our mail. We have to stop in South Dakota once every five years to renew our driver licenses. We drove to the Americas Mailbox office to pick up our mail and then to the Driver License Bureau to renew our licenses. Now that the important stuff was completed, we could relax. If you like aviation history, Box Elder is home to its own Air and Space Museum. It is quite impressive and includes a B-52, B-1, and B-2 bombers in its outdoor display.
After four nights at Ellsworth, we left on September 16th. We spent an overnight in a Walmart in Sioux Falls before we arrived at the Veterans Memorial Campground in LaCrosse, WI.
This is a county-run campground on a first-come, first-served basis. We had no problem getting a nice site, but we had called several times to make sure there would be sites available before we arrived.
Wisconsin has a series of state-operated bicycle trails, based on old railroad lines. The LaCrosse River Trail has a short connecting trail from the campground, so Pat and I rode our bikes from the campground into LaCrosse. After wandering around the downtown area for a while, we had pizza at Polito’s, a very minimalist, but welcoming establishment and rode back home. It was about a twenty-six mile round trip.
The last time we came this way we camped on an island in the Mississippi River and kayaked in the main channel of the Mississippi. This time we paddled the Lake Onalaska Canoe Trail through the backwaters of the Mississippi. What a difference! I dropped Pat and the kayaks off at our launch point, dropped off the truck at our take-out point and rode my bike back to the start. We were on small canals through hammocks and grasslands. Between the directional signs and my GPS, we were able to stay on course. It was a nice way to see a different part of this historic river.
On our way back to the campground, we stopped at Grandad Bluff. This commanding viewpoint overlooks the entire LaCrosse area. From this vantage point, you can see forever! There are several picnic areas in the complex, including a shelter at the highest peak.
Our last stop in the area was the Upper Mississippi Wildlife Refuge Center. Much of it was closed off due to COVID protocols, but we walked the nature trails through the grassland prairie.
We left LaCrosse on September 21st to drive to Milwaukee. There is only one RV park in Milwaukee and that is the State Fairgrounds. If you are looking for a campground in a natural, wooded setting, this is not it! It is essentially a parking lot with water and electrical hookups. As bad as this may sound, it was perfect for what we wanted. Pat’s sister, Mary Lee, and her family live in Milwaukee and their daughter, Ashley, works for Summerfest, an annual music festival in Milwaukee. In our planning, we thought that the last weekend of Summerfest would be while we were there. Well our planning was off and we missed it by a week! However, Ashley gave us a tour of the Summerfest grounds.
The State Fairgrounds are right off of another one of Wisconsin’s bicycle trails, the Hank Aaron State Trail. Before we could use the trail, I had to get one of Pat’s bike wheels replaced. I had contacted a local shop called “Wheel & Sprocket” while we were in Washington. They set aside the proper wheel and were ready for me when I brought the bike in. They had it done the next day and had adjusted the brakes for no additional charge. If you are ever looking for a good bike shop in Milwaukee, I heartily recommend “Wheel & Sprocket.”
We enjoyed our time with Mary Lee and on Sunday, September 26th, we left for Michigan.