Great Lakes Tour Part 4: The Last Leg

We enjoyed our stay at Mackinac Island.  I am guessing we will be back even just for a day trip since it is quite a relaxing place.  So relaxing that we are making a slow exit (that seems like the theme of this tour!)

But for now we picked up the Jeepney and fortunately did not find our clothes scattered all over the parking lot.  I think the fact that the Jeepney is covered by mud is an effective deterrent.  The plan for the day is to make our way to Sleeping Bear National Park and then drive further south to find a dispersed camp site close to Nordhouse Dunes by the Manistee National Forest.

 

Sleeping Bear National Park

It is hard to go wrong if you go to a place named the “Most Beautiful Place in America”.  I don’t know how they voted for it or if there were any Russian meddling but it is what is.  We plotted our way to Sleeping Bear hoping for the fastest route.  We grabbed lunch at tasty lunch at McDonald’s to eat while on the road.

We went thru Traverse City which looks like the happening town.  Beaches, restaurants, boats, and hotels everywhere.  I didn’t expect all that, but anyways, we’ve had enough share of our crowd so we pushed thru.  Plus there isn’t any parking available.

We made it to Sleeping Bear and the first order of business is to stop by D.H. Day Campground to see if I can grab a spot (first-come-first-serve) for the night.  Well it was filling up quick but thankfully I was able to grab a spot.  This works out nice since we really want to spend more time in Sleeping Bear.  We marked our site and proceeded to the Sleeping Bear Dunes.

Something about sand dunes attract me.  I was probably a nomad in my previous life. I’ve gone to Colorado twice and both times we made sure to go to the Great Sand Dunes National Park where my wife and I did our first 4-wheeling and remote camping.  Here we are at the base of the dune, and from a distance the people walking the dune looked like ants.  Shortly, we are now part of that colony.

After a hike in the dunes, we headed over to the beach to relax.  We made our way back to camp to have our dinner and get some rest.  The campground was full but it was pretty quiet so it was a very pleasant night for us.

The next day, we started making our way south with the hopes of stopping by Ludington State Park before finally heading south to Warren Dunes State Park.  On the way we decided to check out the dispersed campsite that we were originally planning for the previous night.  It turned out that the trail is a an “established” dispersed sites, there were a lot of turn outs and most of them are actually pretty nice.  We decided to stop for lunch.

We ended up enjoying the spot too much so it’s time to leave this spot.  We decided to skip Ludington State Park and just go straight for Warren Dunes.  We should get there with enough time to enjoy the beach.

Campsite 22

So we arrived at Warren Dunes and proceeded to campsite check-in.  One thing for sure is that these guys are very serious about letting you know that there is No Alcohol allowed — to the point that is hilarious.

We followed the ranger’s directions to site #22.  We found ourselves in the “Modern Campground” which I can only describe as a campground from hell.  It was like a shanty town, it was crowded, and you have zero privacy, it was like a scene from _name your zombie movie here_.   This was the worst camp site EVER!!!

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I pulled my phone and looked back online to make sure that I have the right campground since I recall I did not reserve a spot in the “Modern Campground”.  Big sigh of relief, I actually reserved a semi-modern spot.  We got out of the area quick and made our way to semi-modern.  It was good enough to spend the night over and not worry about zombies.

 

The afternoon was really hot and it was a great time to get in the water so we headed for the beach.

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We got hit by storm overnight, in fact there was a bit of campground flooding so RTT FTW!  We packed up immediately the next morning as the clouds are really starting to get really ominous.  We met the rest of the heavy rain on the freeway, and we sure took advantage of the free car wash.

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Chicago

We arrived at Chicago around noon and we asked the boys to decide what we are going to do in Chicago.  They chose the Shedd Aquarium — great choice and we ended up pretty much spending the rest of the afternoon in there.  Well that was tiring.

 

We decided that we are driving straight home.  It is going to be a 6-hr drive so this should be pretty easy.  And to be honest, the Warren Dunes camp experience pretty much killed our enthusiasm to camp for another night!

All in all, it was a great way to close out our tour with something fun and interesting for my two boys.  A few days later after we got home, I asked them what are their best memories of our tour and this is what they have to say.

  1. Dispersed Campsites on the Beach
  2. Shedd Aquarium
  3. Mackinac Island

It felt great that we were able to have a good variety for the whole family to enjoy.  We will be planning to be back for sure, although this time we will likely spend more time in the UP and the Pictured Rocks.

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Till Next Time!

 

 

 

 

Tour of the Great Lakes Part 3: July 4th at the Mackinac Island

Here’s the third installment of the Great Lakes Tour, and to spice it up, a youtube link covering the areas we covered here and Part 2

 

A drastic shift from our remote/dispersed camping, we are visiting the Mackinac Island and play a tourist.  Or what I would call a tad bit expensive shower.

Free hotel breakfast, at least we didn’t have to cook.  We checked out from the Hotel at Mackinaw City and proceeded to the Star Line Mackinac Ferry to catch our boat to the island.  But first we need to park the Jeepney in their fenced parking lot.  We don’t really have any expensive items to be worried about.  The boxes contain clothes and extra camping gear, the cheap gas can I got from Costco, and my Trasharoo .  But it costs me $5 to keep it safe so why not?  It would suck to find my underwear scattered on the open parking lot so…

Riding ferry boats is always a treat for me, this is no different.  I remember my first ferry boat going into the Madelaine Island where we brought with us our truck and canoe.  That was fun, and cold!  Today, the July 4th, is going to be a nice warm day.  Still crossing the Mackinac Straight is a bit chilly but refreshing nonetheless.

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I’ll take that boat please
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You’re greeted by this structure entering the Mackinac Island

We got off the boat and started walking towards the hotel.  I reserved a room at the Mission Hotel a few months back.  It’s about a 12-min walk from the dock.  As some of you may know, Mackinac Island only allows travel by foot, bikes, and horses.  The streets are already starting to get busy with the bike traffic, and the horse carriages.

 

 

 

We didn’t have any plans so we just did what we saw what most people are doing, ride the bikes.  We rented bikes for all of us and followed the traffic.  I just know it goes around the island so I doubt we will get lost.  We made a few stops to let the boys rest and check out the views.  But otherwise it was a pretty easy ride for all of us.  By the time we’re done we rode about 9-miles, not too bad.

 

I can’t help but be amazed by the clear water.  Well I found out that it wasn’t like this before, but no thanks to the invasive species (illegal aliens), they did a great job filtering the lake that led to this crystal clear waters.

We grabbed tickets to Fort Mackinac.  My boys love museums and historic sites!  They saw a rifle firing demonstration and a cannon firing as well.  I enjoyed them as well but I let them tour the Fort themselves while I catch up to my social network, haha.  They ended up spending quite a bit of time exploring the area so it was well worth it.

 

We stopped by the town for an ice cream, and did a little more riding.  Then the kids hit the pool before we went for dinner at the Italian Restaurant in the hotel.  I had me a good chunk of Osso Bucco — not the best I’ve had but I always get one when it is on the menu!

 

We decided to watch the fireworks at the lawn of the hotel.  We grabbed a spot along the shores to possibly get a good view of the fireworks.  Well I guess I was expecting a good show but the fireworks display was a little disappointing.  I think they still light the fireworks manually.  The cool thing is we can see all the other fireworks from the mainland from the distance.  It looks like Mackinaw City really brings it.  Anyways, it was getting late and it has been a very active day for us so we retired early for the day.

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where’s everyone?!
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I wish

The next day I found myself the only one wanting to take the 12-min walk back to the dock.  So we decided to take the Horse Carriage taxi.  I am no horse aficionado but these horses are huge!  Now i see how you can get killed when you get run over by horses (I play Battlefield in XBox and it is fun running over people).  The taxi driver was a young guy who was pretty well knowledgeable about the horses breed, even the names of the horses in the island.  He gave everyone not just a taxi ride but a tour guide and answered everyone’s questions in a fun attitude.  We made sure we gave him a considerable tip, since folks like him are really the ones that make a trip pleasant and memorable.

We rode our ferry boat the last time ready to get going to our next adventure.

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See you Mackinac Island

For Part 4, we will be visiting the coastline of Lake Michigan and then end our trip in Chicago (for the ultimate jungle experience!)

Tour of the Great Lakes Part 2: There are no Plans, Just Adventure

We just spent two nights dispersed camping in the UP.  Our goal was to scope out the scenery and that experience solidified our plan to setup a future trip focusing mostly on the UP.  We certainly left confident and looking forward to a longer term boondocking.  But for now, we left our Lake Superior camp and started driving east of the coastline in search of civilization.

The original plan is to take us to hit the following points along the coastline of Lake Superior:

  • Mouth of Two Hearted River
  • Crisp Point Lighthouse
  • Whitefish Point Lighthouse

From Whitefish, we will drive south to Tahquamenon Falls and from there drive south more to camp in Carp River national campground bringing us closer to Mackinac Island.

So let the day begin.

 

Mouth of the Two Hearted River

I don’t know if it is actually the place itself or the one of my favorite beverages that brought me here.  A little bit of both.  I was hoping to take a picture of me holding my Two Hearted Ale along the river, I was expecting a beer stand in the parking lot .  In hindsight, I should have bought them while still in town.

The drive to Two Hearted River brings us on a sandy path with a few deep sections. So what does a guy in the right mind do?  At one deep section, I stopped in deep sand.   Ipulled the lever to 2WD and hit go.  And surely enough, the rear end just dug itself.  I switched to 4WD and started going, and i was barely moving.  Oh crap, traction control.. turn it off quick!!  As soon as i turned it off, the Jeepney started getting momentum.  The trick is enough go to keep you moving forward but not too much that you end up digging yourself further.

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Into the Great Wide Open

I made it out off the deep sand slowly and went on my way.  It may seem I am playing, well somewhat.  But I do want to learn how my rig behaves in the kind of situation.  Of course, I do not want to get stuck in the middle of nowhere, but just in case, I bring along  a shovel and some traction aids.  However I’d rather be enjoying the beach instead of working out so enough playing in the deep sand.

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The Mouth of Two Hearted River has what appears to be a nice campground.  It doesn’t look overcrowded as far as spacing between the sites are plus the location is remote enough that a lot of them look like hardcore campers.   It is first-come-first-served so you will need to be here early to grab a spot.  Although the surrounding area offers a lot of dispersed camping opportunity.  The river is also particularly popular to kayakers and canoers so there are plenty of them in the parking lot.

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I wonder if they take water to brew my beer

 

It’s interesting how the dark ale color of the Two Hearted River meets up with Lake Superior.  There’s a stark contrast and you can easily see how the two water is separated, like oil and water.

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Cold Lake meets Cold River

 

Moving along, the drive to Crisp Point lighthouse takes us thru the forest area that was burnt down in the Duck Lake Fire of 2012.  The trail was pretty tight covered with burnt branches hugging the trail.  Trees are starting to grow back though most of the green cover is from the ferns draping over the char coaled forest.  Still, the contrast between the blackened remains of trees and the striking green fern paints a really good picture to my eyes.

We got past the burnt area and moved in closer to Crisp Point.  It forks off from the main trail and is about a a 6-mile picturesque — and bumpy — drive.

We got there and took some pictures.  It’s a sweet place but my kids were not impressed. A month earlier we did a trip north of MN and we brought them to Split Rock Lighthouse so I can’t really fault them to compare.  Anyways, we hanged out on the beach, skipped more rocks and had our lunch in the parking lot before we move on to our next spot.

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Crisp Point Lighthouse

 

So earlier I mentioned that we plan to hit the Whitefish Point Lighthouse, the lighthouse that is supposed to equal Split Rock Lighthouse as far as my kids eyes go.  But another change in the plan, that lighthouse will have to be for next time.  For one, the road east of Crisp Point is indeed a 4WD road and we will end up sleeping on the trail if we pushed thru.

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That’s a good description

I just talked to a couple on a passenger car who tried to follow the GPS and luckily had a chance to turn around.  Some of the mud holes can swallow their shiny car.  Thankfully, it is not too remote that they’ll spend days stuck on the trail.  It’s popular spot for ATVers so some help will be on the way to save you or at least what’s left of you after the mosquitoes are done with you.

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One tip: you can bury yourself in mud to keep the mosquitoes away!

Fortunately the Jeepney had no problems tackling the trail.  The deepest mudhole was bumper high but we were not remotely close to getting stuck.

The same trail to Whitefish also leads us to Tahquamenon Falls so a little re-route and we are on our way to our next stop.

Tahquamenon Falls State Park

So it is a bit of a shock pulling into Tahquamenon Falls (Lower Falls).  I guess since it is July 4th and everyone is out enjoying the state park.  We pulled in around 4pm so the crowd must have died down already but this is probably the busiest state park I’ve been.

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This is just one of the falls in the whole park

 

What can I say, I was impressed by this falls so i took all these pictures for you.  Our Gooseberry Falls have nothing on this so I am glad we made this stop.  The overlook brings you next to it and I’m pretty sure someone wanting a public way to end their life can easily do it there, not that I am giving any ideas here.  The upper falls is a 4-mile hike and the kids are ready to go, and boasting that they just did 4 miles in their track and field summer camp.  I was like, are you sure you did 4 miles and not a quarter mile?!?  They were sure, I was like no way!  Not to mention 4 miles goes one way.  I guess we could float back thru the falls on the way back and hope for the best.  A little bit of creative misdirection and we’re back to the Jeepney and making our way south.

While driving south, we decided we were just going to have dinner at the town at St. Ignace but that will take us past our campsite.  It is the town before crossing the Mackinac Bridge, and also one of the ferry docks to the Mackinac Island.  However as we get closer, I struggled whether I am going to drive 20 minutes back north to my campsite which I have already reserved for the night.  Well once we saw the Mac Bridge,  at that point we were thinking, there is no way not gonna cross that bridge tonight.  And if we do, I know there is no turning back.

Bye bye campsite, just yet minor plan revision!

Mackinac Bridge

So everyone knows the Golden Gate Bridge but how about the Mackinac Bridge.  I sure haven’t heard of it until I started looking into my route.  Well apparently it goes 5 miles long crossing the Straight of Mackinac.  It obviously doesn’t have the fancy color the Golden Gate Bridge has but nonetheless my kids were in awe.  It helps that my older one had been studying different types of bridge so this one has to be the biggest one he identified so far.

The bridge brings us to the Lower Peninsula so it is goodbye UP for us.  I hear that mosquitoes stay in the UP side so that’s a welcome news for us.

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Crossing the MAC

We scanned for cheap hotels in the area, found one with a pool so we had the kids jump in as we get ready for the Mackinac Island for our July 4th.  Ahh…  It’s nice to have a hot shower at least, I’m good as new.

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Tour of the Great Lakes, Part 1: The UP

In the previous post, I mentioned that we are planning a UP trip and originally planned to make it to Drummond Island.  I made a last minute call and rerouted our plan to go south and visit LP (Lower Peninsula) and also hit the sandy beaches of Lake Michigan.  All in all visiting the three Great Lakes, Lake Superior, Huron and Lake Michigan.  On the way back we will a quick stop on Chicago for a bit of city fun.  Overall, it should be a very diverse week from primitive camping to luxury hoteling!

UP, Yoopie

Upper Peninsula Michigan.  This starts our week long road trip to visit the three big lakes — Lake Superior, Lake Huron and Lake Michigan.  We loaded up the Jeep and started our trek around 3AM which should bring us around noon to our first potential campsite.

We would have made it in time but I made a routing mistake that took me about 100 miles off track.  Sometimes it’s better to be less proud and turn on the GPS.  I thought I knew where I am heading until I realized I am going to Chicago instead of the UP.  Ah, that means I get to spend more time listening to this book CD, Dante’s Inferno.  Maybe not… I’m still on Disc 2 of 6, LOL.

First, the Youtube Link, let’s get it out of the way.

 

Mouth of the Huron River

Well known in the UP overland circles as a dispersed camping area along Lake Superior, and I’ve read folks blogging about this place so I was expecting that this place will be packed being its July 4th weekend.  But to my surprise, there were about two or three other vehicles in the area.  I guess part of it is that few folks will do primitive camping plus Pictured Rocks already sucked in all the crowd.  Good for us, we got whatever spot we like.

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someone is happy with our first campsite
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let’s relax a little bit here

After a long stretch of driving, we thought it best to simply lay back and enjoy the beach.  Collect firewood and let the kids dig sand.  I imagine Lake Superior was in the low 60s but another family was having a good time swimming the water.  Not today, we dipped our toes and that’s it!

About 3-5 cars stopped by throughout the day.  At the end of the day, an old couple took the spot at the end of the trail then another family within shouting distance from us.  Looks like this family is staying here for a month judging by how much firewood they brought with them.  They got ezup tents, ATVs, dirtbikes, the whole shebang.  Thankfully they looked like respectful campers as they were pretty quiet.

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Late afternoon, the clouds came in so I setup the tarp to get some cover.  I really need to setup the tarp earlier otherwise it ends up looking so amateur.  Thankfully the rain went pretty quick and we managed to enjoy a good campfire.

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thunderstorm was in the forecast, nothing that my tarp can’t handle

Not for long, the kids are tired so  we settled down for the night.  Along with the sound of the breaking waves, the crickets and ducks and birds, we had a pretty good music throughout the night.

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We made breakfast and packed up for our next destination.  We are very happy with this spot and we will likely spend at least two full days next time, especially if the weather is warmer.

 

We definitely need to streamline our morning breakfast and pack up exercise.  You would think that we will be quicker with more experience on our belt but we find ourselves dilly-dallying not mindful of the time.  I mean there is nothing wrong with that, we never set ourselves to any strict schedule or plans — that’s kind of the whole point.  But it would be nice to be able to hit lunch spots or find campsites early in the afternoon.  Leaving at 10am is setting ourselves for a tougher timeline.

 

Marquette MI, Log Slide, then to our yet to be determined Campsite

It is going to be a long drive to Marquette, not distance wise, but because we are going to travel thru thick forest roads going 20mph and crawl speed at times.  We were hoping to reach Marquette in time for lunch.

The road went on and on.  Earlier on, I let a Ford Bronco along with his two kids go by while I air down.  He is heading to Marquette too so at least someone is going to break the trail for me.  I never saw him again, he is likely going at a pretty good clip compared to me.  As you see from the pictures, my Jeep is pretty loaded both inside and up top so I do have to take my time when going thru some of the rougher sections.  The trail is moderate although you’ll definitely need a high clearance vehicle and there are sections that can get a bit tight from vegetation.  Also you will definitely want to have more than enough gas before you get in this trail, even better if you carry an extra can!

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A paper note was posted on a tree about 2 miles back saying this bridge is broken.  I crossed it fine.

We finally made it to Marquette in time and picked our spot in Presque Isle Park.  The problem with setting up route in the map, we sometimes underestimate the time involved to traverse that small map we plotted.  Thankfully we just made it in time.

Oh well, Warmed up some quick lunch and then went for a walk along the break water.

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At this point we realized that we still have a long stretch to go.  I planned to check out the 12-mile campground in the Pictured Lakes National Lakeshore in case there is a spot as it was highly recommended in one blog I read.  The campground was full which means at this time, we need to keep moving and continue heading east to find our dispersed camp site.  I have to be honest, we would still likely push thru with finding a dispersed site even if there was an open site.  We will have plenty of time to interact with crowd in the next few days and that can wait.

We will definitely have to plan to spend more time on Picture Lakes next time.  Maybe rent a kayak when the kids are older, or ride the boat tour.  Maybe even climb down and up the dunes.

Thankfully, The Log Slide was just along the way so we stopped over to check it out, that shouldn’t take long as long as no one from us unintentionally slid down Lake Superior.

The drop was pretty scary, and my boys had to be reminded i won’t be picking them up down there if they fall.  It is a football field long vertical climb!   Just last year, the overlook came down a 100 feet.

After scaring ourselves (mostly me), we went back and took on and kept going west.  The pavement ends past Grand Marais town,  and we hit the Grand Marais Truck trail.   At this point, I was down to one FM radio station playing a lot of 70s and 80s music.  Which I guess is so perfect for this place.  We sang along thru it!  Interestingly, I scanned for an AM station and there was none.

 

Lake Superior Dispersed Camping Site

Using our trusty Gaia GPS app, we found a spur off the main trail and I figured that will be a nice spot for a camp.  Surprisingly, we found a truck at the end of the trail.  An old couple are collecting rocks for their garden on the beach.  As always, it was great meeting new people especially the locals.  They let us play in their playground and the only thing we can give back is make sure we leave the place as it was, and if possible even better.

Sand, sand and sand and beautiful rocks.  We had miles of them to ourselves.  It can’t be more perfect than this!  Oh wait, of course there’s Hawaii with its warmer waters but I remember it costing a couple of grand to enjoy the beach and I didn’t even get to have my own campfire along the beach!

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that’s the couple’s truck on the background.  We setup our camp right on the sand.

 

We definitely loved this site and we were thinking our campsites are getting better and better.  I would like to see that trend going.

My kids certainly loved this site, having all the beach to themselves.

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I woke up early the next morning at around 530am.  I went out to enjoy the sunrise.  The rest woke up around 9 so I was hanging out for about 3 hours!  It is going to be another long day ahead of us!  We plan to hit the coastline of UP further east, check out a some lighthouses then make our way south to get read for our Mackinaw Island experience the following day.  Stay tuned.

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Well we got the UP scoped out.  The next time out should be a lot smoother.

Badlands, Buffalo Gap and the Black Hills

Compared to Utah or Colorado, there is not a lot of information that you can gather about South Dakota’s Badlands/Buffalo Gap and the Blackhills when it comes to overlanding.  I started digging and found few old trip reports from expeditionportal and everything I’ve seen looked promising.  So it was kind of surprising that there was not a whole lot of trip reports from the overland crowd, I would have expected a lot more would have gone and reported their experiences.  What could be the reason for this?  Perhaps they’re still lost in the spider web of forest road trails in Black Hills, or did they finally succumbed to the prairie dog bubonic plague?  Either way, I found enough resources to come up with a route that includes trail riding and also hitting the usual destinations for our kids.

I originally planned this out as a solo family trip over an extended weekend.  It was supposed to be a rig shakedown but honestly, we have been out several times this year and have done quite a bit of shakedown already.  However this will be our first to do dispersed camping so we are excited for this new experience.

Well luckily a friend just purchased a new to him Land Cruiser within weeks of our plan.  He was excited to put it thru its paces so he signed up which brings us up to two rigs.

This is great news for us!  Although there are advantages to doing the trip solo — and mostly it revolves around total freedom —  one drawback of going solo is it limits your options on where you WANT to go — and a lot of times these are actually the places we seek.  In the end, it all boils down to risk assessment and whether my rig and I are capable enough for self-recovery.  At this point of our experience, we were more than glad to have someone join us in the adventure.

Let’s Link Out to Youtube First, Shall We…  Then you can read the rest

 

 

 

First Stop: Badlands and Buffalo Gap

We drove out Wednesday afternoon with target of reaching the Baja Offroad Site in Buffalo Gap before sunrise.  I got to the site first just in time to take advantage of sunrise lighting.

 

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Dabbing For Sunrise

 

My friend arrived a little later.   Ah the Land Cruiser finally meets dirt — perhaps the first time this truck ever did.  It’s a sign of good times to come!

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A Jeep, a Land Cruiser — Cactus Approved!

 

We prepared some breakfast then let the kids run around.

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And then big boys played a little.

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We sent the kids to Badlands while early in the morning to avoid the heat.  It was hot…

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We then made our way south to look at some Prairie Dog towns, and headed our way to Sheep Mountain Table to have our lunch.

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Bubonic Plague Cuteness
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Sheep Mountain Table

Sheep Mountain Table will be a a great place for a camp.

 

Indian Creek

From there, we made our way to Indian Creek Trail.  The trail sits in the Buffalo Gap and it crosses Indian Creek quite a bit as the trail follows its path.  There isn’t really a lot of water on the creek so we are somewhat disappointed — no water crossing today (i already got my fix previous week (jump to 4:02 on video below)

The bottom is very solid so it would have been a non-issue even if it had water.  Yet we still had a lot of fun going in and out the creek countless times and occasionally hitting some sticky mud.

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Grazing the Grassland

The plan was that we would have been heading our way  to Deadwood by 4pm.  It is 5pm and we’re still on Indian Creek Campground.  So we made the call to pick a nice site to stay for the night.  It was probably the one single wise decision we made this trip since we quickly realized that we needed some rest.   Remember, we’ve been driving since the previous day.

We quickly realized that our campsite is a path well used by the local cow community.  A bull was not particularly enamored by us hanging out on his path to meet up with his girlfriends.  Despite the animosity, we slept real nice in our RTT (exhaustion helps too).  But I can’t say the same for those in a ground tent :).

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Our campsite by the creek
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Ground Tent Setup
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RTT Setup.. Or the lack of it…
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Where do prairie dogs pee?!

Day 2

Bear Country and the Presidents

Since we did not make it to Deadwood, we decided that it is best to skip the planned trail ride from Camp 5 down to Mt Rushmore.  It would have added a minimum of 3hr drive.  Instead we made our way to Mt Rushmore directly from our campsite.  On the way, we  stoped by Bear Country USA.  Oops that was a bit pricey!  They asked me to take out my backpack (i.e. Trasharoo) before I drive in which i gladly complied to.

The kids had a great time at Bear Country.  We then jumped back on towards Mt Rushmore.  The kids thoroughly enjoyed Mt Rushmore way more than I thought they would.  They went to the museum/learning centers and even watched a 15-minute film.

 

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Enjoying Mt Rushmore a bit too much

Cicero Peak and Back Down

We left Mt Rushmore and started our trek to our planned campsite which is at Cicero Peak in Custer (http://www.summitpost.org/cicero-peak/899234).   It wasn’t a particularly hard climb but it was rocky and bumpy.  Yet neither of us was wise enough to air down until we reached the peak!  Once we reached the top, there’s some spots where we could set up camp.  It would have been a great spot with a view as it overlooks the valley but the forecast for the night was isolated thunderstorm and it already started raining.  We are left with two choices, it was either get hit by a lightning up in the peak OR get pinned down by a falling tree/branch.  We chose the latter although statistics may beg to differ.

 

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It was pretty bumpy trek going up, airing down early would have been nice if we were any wiser.

One main advantage of an RTT is a quick setup time.  However that just means time to do something else like  setting up the tarp, table, chairs, etc.  As usual, you pay for it during pack up time.

And more mad cows…

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What’s the Beef?!

 

Day 3

Custer State Park Wildlife Loop

One of the things I remember the last time I visited Custer State Park was the Bison Loop and seeing these big creatures slowly make their way around my truck.  So the first order of business in Custer is to do the loop and find the bisons.  We got from our campsite to the loop thru a series of forest roads which makes for a scenic drive, even more scenic!

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Dirt road thru the hills within the Wildlife Loop

And then the bisons.

Mission accomplished.

Jewel Cave National Monument

Another spot we thought the kids will love is the Jewel Cave National Monument.  Unfortunately with our leisurely pace we only had time for a 20-min tour.  My kids are a bit disappointed and wanted to do more, so definitely planning it for the next time we are in the area.

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Jenny Gulch

From here, we make our way up thru gulches and single-track trails up to Silver City.  This is our last ditch attempt to ride the trails we missed the previous day.  The ride thru the gulches are beautiful but Jenny Gulch tops it all — the water and view is amazing!  Again this will be a perfect spot to hang out when we go back.

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Raspberry Ridge Trail

We packed up and made a short run towards Raspberry Ridge.  It is the local name for a rated 3 trail which corresponds to MVUM 8027-8030.  We went thru MVUM 8027 thru 8029 quick, looked pretty easy overall, with a section that was a bit overgrown for the Land Cruiser (pinstriping is not in the menu).  However we felt confident and thought we should do 8030 since it looks like it is a shorter run.

MVUM #8030 started nice and easy and then suddenly turned to a rocky hill climb.  It featured some few ledges to work thru uphill and then similarly downhill as I later discovered.  I made it thru the first steep climb and before I got too far, I stopped and went for the Land Cruiser to guide him thru if needed.  After a long downhill walk and sprained ankle close-calls, I found that the Land Cruiser has turned around and decide to sit it out.

At this point, the Jeep is way up the climb and has to push forward.  My wife helped out in spotting while taking some videos.  There were some sketchy spots and fortunately I did not get hung up.  Overall I was impressed with the Jeep’s ability to go thru these obstacles even with a stockish ride height (1.5″ puck lift).  It clawed its way in and out with its front and rear lockers and doing all that in a fully loaded Jeep.   Sure we scraped a bit but that’s what skid plates are for.  Overall, I learned more about the capability of my rig which should help me in the future.  And also I learnt that my wife and I need to work on our spotting drill.

Steer Pasture Overlook Campsite

We had a great dinner in Rapid City and from this point my friend will drive to Mitchell to visit her grandma while we proceed to Steer Pasture Overlook dispersed campsite to be the start of our trip back home.  My initial hope is that we will be at the campsite while the sun is up but it isn’t happening tonight.  We made our way and arrived at the turn off to Steer Pasture Overlook.  It was dark so we missed the turn but the GPS led us back.

I turned my headlights to bright, and I was glad that i upgraded my headlight to a much brighter LED set.  I simply don’t want to drive myself off the cliff so every little bit of light helps.  We arrived at the end, and somewhat navigated the area via GPS, it was dark so it is hard to tell where you are.  We picked a spot and scanned the area.  Yup it is just us, well along with all the wildlife we disturbed particularly a coyote that started howling.  It’s a bit eerie, I went ahead and got my tent unfolded in record time.  Once everything is in place,  we got the kids upstairs to sleep while I take a last look around and take a last peek at the great sky view.

I did not get the best sleep.  It was windy and the common complaint you’ll hear about RTT is that the rainfly is loose and flaps — it is noisy.  I am fine with noise, but it makes it sound like someone is walking to my tent.  I usually add more straps to keep the rainfly from flapping but I didn’t have the time last night.  So yeah, a bit paranoid and I am sure I will get more confident once I get more experience on my belt.  I did have coffee for dinner so that must be it.

By 5am, the sun is slowly showing up so I went down and see exactly how our campsite looks like.

It was awesome!

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Voted as Best Site Ever by my Kids

Continue reading “Badlands, Buffalo Gap and the Black Hills”