The Midwest-the epic novel;)
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, the Midwest, new territory for us after many years. We had driven through once, 10 years ago like bats out of hell trying to make it to Baja for the precious few days of vacation we had.
Our short stay in Chappell was informative, and noisy. We learned this railroad line hugged the I-80 all across the country it seemed, a good heads up for where we were going to camp next. As we poured over parks on the internet planning to find the quietest spots our whole normal landscape had changed. The last 6 months had been the SW, California, Arizona and Utah, this was very different country, and the wildlife was changing as well, new birds and wildflowers that looked vaguely familiar, yet not. The road was flat and stretched out with an never ending line of fields of half grown corn, old barns and farm houses, fences and small bits of wooded areas on rolling hills. It was so green.
Our next hop to Kearney did not even take us out of Nebraska. Located well South of the interstate and train lines was Fort Kearney State Park and recreation area it had the electric and water we liked and they have a well located dump station for when we left. The pictures did not do it justice, we drove South on the 44 and West on 50A South of the Platte River past old farm houses and barns, miles of fields of corn as far as the eye could see. The young guy at the entrance handed us a map and off we wound our way to a wooded spot, backing up onto a beautiful pond. The park was nearly empty and orioles were calling from the trees all around us.
This was our laundry stop, the small RV park in Chappell did not have any washing machines and Chappell itself had no laundromat so this was the let’s get clean stop. Kearney’s old downtown took us by surprise, old brick streets and of course the railroad running through it was sprinkled with some restored and some not period buildings. It was actually quite lovely. Across from the laundromat we spied a “Mercado Mexicano”, quite a surprise. Inside the old building we found chilies and avocados, tomatillos, caso fresco and tortillas, the smells and sights we were familiar with. The shop owner explained that she had moved here 15 years ago and there were no Mexicans then but that the population was rising. The farm work, reasonably priced homes all were a draw, a rejuvenation perhaps of what was once a fading downtown. Now a small amount of life had been added to it. Next door a Peluqueria (Hair Salon) was open and across the street a Pananderia sold bread. I liked this already:)
The pond at the park, one of many, was teaming with life. Dragonflies, fish, frogs and birds. Orioles were everywhere! They woke us up in the morning and the frogs croaked us to sleep..and the fireflies! What an absolute delight to watch them in the evening. As handy (or dare I say “convenient”- Pet Peeve-I hate that, people always are saying that, the interstate parks are sooo convenient…lazy arses…drive 10 miles further to somewhere quiet!) as the Interstate RV Parks/campgrounds are, to compare a night of traffic and train horns to the sounds of frogs, well, you know how I feel:)
Just the dragonflies alone were astounding. I spent a tremendous amount of timing researching them on-line and I’m still not sure! The joys of water and heat:) There was so much too see in a few square feet on pond I never actually wandered far from the trailer. We left as the weekend was approaching and Saturday/Sunday local campers started to fill up the grounds. This is the only problem with the smaller parks, they are yours during the week but completely booked each and every weekend.
Our next jump was to the North Of Omaha, still in Nebraska, this is one long state, Glen Cunningham Lake State Park. These are not really lakes but like California massive reservoirs stocked with fish. As we drove in, we tried to fill up with water but it was all turned off. The Park was practically empty and we were wondering why, no water at all. Later found out the e coli count had been too high so it was all sealed off. So, it was water rationing time! No wonder it was nearly empty. We had a choice of sights, we could have backed onto the water but took a spot completely shaded under the trees. The temperatures were hovering in the 90’s. There were several paths around the lake and everything seemed in bloom, and hot, and muggy. A juvenile Red Tailed Hawk was in the park the few days we were there, flying from tree to tree, usually being badgered by the much smaller Orioles…always fun to watch. This park could have used a host, with a rake and a garbage can. It was lovely but fairly messy, fire-pits full of trash, similar to the last park, one felt the shortage of staff, with the exception of the ballistic lawn mower man;)..he seemed to take great relish at doing his job at the uppermost speed the mower could manage…:)
We ventured into North Omaha to stock up on cat food and we found BBQ…Hartland BBQ…don’t miss it if you are in this neck of the woods:) Finally some good eats, especially when the temperatures are in the high 90’s no one feels like cooking! The baby-back ribs were divine and the brisket good as well, I’m starting to drool thinking about it;)
The lack of water made us push on after two nights as the tank was getting low. F.W Kent State Park in Des Moines Iowa was the next stop and they had water available to fill your tanks at the entrance. This was the third two night stop and these parks were starting to all run together in my mind. Reservoirs and manicured lawns, looking more like wedding location shoots than camping areas.All what you are used to I suppose, all that green confounds our senses! I loved the sign next to the trailer with a route to the tornado shelter..we checked it out, call it morbid curiosity, it was locked, so what if the guy with the key doesn’t quite make it, but the tornado does?…0_0
This Park has a wonderful array of walking paths on it’s more than 1,000 acres, around the lake and through some beautiful swampy areas and a bird blind! I sat there several times just trying to make out what I was looking at:) Always an education!
Everything seemed to be in flower. From wild lilies to morning glories and the wonderful smell of milkweed! I had to come back late in the day to shoot the orange lilies as they were in the shade of the forest canopy for most of the day. I appreciated the wilder paths and swampy areas to explore. The one thing we did notice is that were were the only “out of state” plate in the park with a total of 89 sites..everyone else was from Ohio.
We went into Tiffin to fill up with diesel but found no grocery store (7-11’s don’t count) so went back to the Park and North to a farm-stand we had seen advertised on the way in. I love these small back roads where the grass is tall and the old barns are greyed with age.
Northern Ridge Berry Farm was a delightful uncertified organic farm stand, the kind we love to support. Fresh vegetables, and eggs, local cheese and meat, jams and oh, that rhubarb custard pie was to die for:) Thank you Bonnie for that touch of home, great conversation and winning smile!
I’d missed the sight of those orange day lilies that have naturalized alongside the roads. From Ohio to Ontario, they yell summer is here:) I find myself humming James Taylor songs on roads like this!
It was time to move on again…two nights and back on the road. Out of all the Mid-west state parks I found this one the most enjoyable. The trails and paths as well as the bird blind made it one of the spots I would love to come back to when we are by this way again.
So, out of Iowa, and into Illinois and Indiana. Our next stop was going to be beside a real lake, the great lakes, Lake Michigan. There was a notable increase in traffic and human density as we pushed East on the 80, and then the 90. Indiana fix your roads…the $28 toll must be going into someones pocket and not your highway system…yikes! The cats were not amused, bumpy roads make them uneasy and they cry, so therefor, me too;) We stopped at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore almost 300 miles later. It was a long haul on bumpy roads and we were glad to be stopped. Some days you don’t even know the cats are there..others, well, you are VERY aware of their presence;)
It was unsettled weather and some menacing clouds were moving in. We hooked up and went into the town of Chesterton for some take out pizza, Duneland’s Pizza, which was amazing thin crust pizza and went looking for a cold beer, well, not on a Sunday. A state with archaic liquor laws…well, another one anyway. There shalt be no beer sales on God day…except in those states that God wants us to enjoy a cold one on Sunday;) a pisser to say the least when you are tired and hankering for a cold beer or a glass of Chardonnay. I guess we expect this in Missouri and further South but we should have known, now we do…
We explored the beach and lake shore, too many people for our liking and it smacked of an add of real people for Wall-E, the prequel. The last day was spent hiking on some of the dunes, a challenge in 90° but well worth it. It was an amusing climb to the top of a “mountain” that is only 176’high…hello…176′ is not a mountain..haha!
The shaded forest was host to a new set of flowers and fungus and photographers nightmare of no light and so many cool things. I don’t have a flash on the Canon 6D but should probably look into one for the future! It would help capture some of the things I struggle with, like mushrooms!
Indiana Dunes is a busy park. It felt very suburban. Only peeve was everybody in the area was trying for the bonfire thing, none doing very well at it, and we were being smoked out from all directions. I guess I can understand the whole nostalgic campfire thing but when it’s 90° give it it a break! Wood is for cooking on;) I guess after cutting, splitting and drying all our own firewood for cooking and heating for the last 8 years I am too pragmatic. The Mexicans in Baja use it for cooking first and then heating, if some is left then you can sit beside it;)
We were ready for another laundry stop so found a small RV campground in Crystal Rock, Ohio just a few miles North of the I-80. It was shaded and looked nice in the shots. It was a tight squeeze getting the trailer around the corner of some trees but removing the picnic table got us into place. It was quite rural, the owners were very friendly but I can’t say the same for the area, it had a very distrustful vibe to it. No one waved as you walked on the roads, it felt somewhat unfriendly overall. I had fun exploring the campground as it was quite expansive, a family of feral cats caused quite a stir as I was photographing birds in the afternoon, warning calls were going out all over. Mama cat eyes me warily but the babies posed for me under the tree where a Red Bellied Woodpecker family were living.
We wandered down the rural road looking for a bird sanctuary marked on google maps but turned back in the heat before we reached it. There was wheat being harvested and all the old farm houses and barns were quite lovely, a touch of rural America, a few too many Make America Great signs around for our liking though…
The laundry got done and we explored Sandusky for some groceries and a lunch but came away feeling this little town had seen better days. We sat and ate a perch dinner at the Sandusky Fish Company, a small take out type restaurant with picnic tables, steep prices and rubbery frozen fish..too bad as the campground owners had raved about it being the best fish ever..It was fun watching the birds, they ate more than we did. Beautiful statue across the street, this had been a major stop in the underground railroad for slaves escaping to Canada and this was a tribute to them. We drove around looking for a grocery store with fresh food, found one, and walked out, it was mostly packaged and frozen goods, not much in the way of fresh food and what was there looked very sad. Maybe we were getting tired of traveling but the feeling we had here is I think we’ll skip this town if we come back this way along the I-90 ever. Maybe the American dream that never came true sits here, an angry vibe reverberated, from the gas station clientele to people yelling at each other at red lights it felt ugly. Run away…..
One last stop before Ontario…Darien Lakes Sate Park. It was the weekend of the 4th of July and we were able to reserve the last spot. Word of warning, bring your rabies vaccine certificate with you if you have dogs or cats, we just declared two aliens that don’t go outside and managed to slip by;) We were sandwiched in a Y at #72 with the road on either end of the trailer and on quite an angle, not the preferred spot but we were happy to get something. Some of the reservation sights have wonderful photos of the reservable spaces, the NY one did not so we settled for what we got, it did say max. length 20′ so getting the 34′ Moaning Myrtle in was a bit of a shoe horn job but done:)
There were plenty of trails and a lovely little man made lake and bridge. A fantastic Purple Martin house that was very busy as well. We had an afternoon of thunderstorms, ha, no smoky campfires tonight plebes..I am getting mean in my older years. Just wait until I have a cane to whack people with;)
We were getting excited about going home, Mike’s for all his life, except for Baja and mine for over 15 years. The last stretch was our normal 3-4 hour drive. It was nice to drive up familiar roads on the US side as we approached one of the 1000 Islands Bridges. Hey, we even went past Mexico;)New York that is, and we’ll leave it here, goodbye Midwest, Hello Ontario…stay tuned amigos to see what kind of trouble we can get into, in our hometown:) Perth