I’m Not Even Sure What to Say About 2020

Where to begin?

Every year I like to write a post that wraps up the previous year’s travels with a proverbial bow, reliving all of the joy and wonderment we experienced. You can see how this is usually a fun little project by checking out the posts for 2018 and 2019. Obviously, this year is different. Like, so, so different.

We started the year spending the winter in the San Diego area as full-time Airstreamers and ended the year living in a condo in Bozeman, Montana. To say things took an unexpected turn is a bit of an understatement. I know that COVID-19 affected the life of pretty much every one on the planet, in a wide range of ways. We are so very grateful to be able to say that, as of this post, we have not personally experienced the virus, or lost loved ones to it. We know there are so many that can’t say the same, and our hearts hurt for the pain and loss others have experienced during this time. We know it’s still going to be a long road for our community, our country, and our planet, but we’re hopeful and optimistic that 2021 will eventually bring some health and happiness.

Besides the isolation, frustration, and disappointment that the pandemic brought to our lives, we also had to deal with the loss of our third amigo, our travel buddy, our faithful canine companion — Max. We said goodbye to Max on February 25th, just two days shy of his 15th birthday. When we first started our full-time travel life, we were so unsure how well Max would adapt. It turns out there was no need to worry, because he was the BEST Airstream dog. He slept through travel days like a champ and preferred so stay ‘home’ whenever Travis and I would venture out. The strangeness of not having a dog around after 15 years was compounded by the weirdness of the early days of the pandemic. Ten months later, and we still miss him dearly, but the thought of him no longer triggers a twinge in the heart.

So, yeah, 2020 hasn’t been the most enjoyable year, but we did have some good times and we were able to travel to some great places. Let’s look at some of that joy and wonderment we DID get to experience.

We travelled 4,608 miles across nine states — California, Nevada, Utah, Montana, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and North Dakota. Our longest travel day (which we’ll never do again) was 738 miles (you can read about that here) and our shortest travel day was 19 miles. We averaged $36.78/night for site fees, which is almost $10 less per night than 2019, so, yay us!

Michigan was the only new state we added to our travel map this year, making it our 20th state that we’ve ventured to with the Airstream. We were very happy to be able to spend some time in Michigan in fall — such a great time to be in the area!

While we had originally planned to visit a number of new National Park Service sites this year, we were able to make it to only eight, with four being new and four being return visits.

The four new sites were:

Capitol Reef National Park

Check out more from our visit to Capitol Reef here.

Voyageurs National Park

Our visit to Voyageurs makes 19 national parks visited thus far! Check out more from our visit to Voyageurs here.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Check out more from our visit to Pictured Rocks here.

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

Check out more from our visit to Apostle Islands here.

The other four sites we were able to revisit were:

Zion National Park

Due to the pandemic, the only exploring we did of Zion during this time was to take a drive up the canyon, which is usually closed to vehicles, but was open because the shuttles weren’t running.

Check out more about our visit to Zion here. Read more about our previous visit here and here.

Yellowstone National Park

Check out more from our visit to Yellowstone here. Read more about our previous visit here.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Check out more about our visit to Roosevelt NP here. Read about our previous visit here.

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument 

Check out more about our visit to Little Bighorn here. Read about our previous visit here.

But our year wasn’t just about the parks! Take a look at some of the other things that brought us joy this year –>

We visited some of the ‘World’s Largest’ statues:

We ran into some interesting creatures in the Anza-Borrego Desert:

We tried a new sport:

We were able to meet up with a handful of other full timers:

We enjoyed some beach days and amazing sunsets:

Pre-pandemic, we were able to spend time with some of our favorite people:

And when we didn’t think it was going to happen, we ended up being able to spend some safe, socially distanced time with family:

The pandemic forced us to change our travel plans for 2020 (goodbye, hard-earned FL state park reservations!), so we made a decision. A big one. Even though the RV lifestyle somewhat prepared us for pandemic life (you can read about that here), it didn’t make sense for us to stay on the road. After dealing with multiple reservation cancellations and watching things close as the case numbers rose, we decided that the best thing for us was to get off the road and settle down for the time being. One of the best parts of full timing is not only exploring the natural wonders of our country, but also meeting new people along the way and checking out things in each city we visit — restaurants, museums, community events, etc. With all of these things closed, traveling just wasn’t that enjoyable. And we wanted to make sure we stayed healthy. So, we purchased a condo in Bozeman, Montana in July. Read more about what led to that decision here.

We’ve been enjoying safely exploring our new city:

And we’re learning to embrace winter (kind of):

But probably the weirdest thing to happen to us personally in 2020, is our appearance on HGTV’s House Hunters!

We filmed the episode in August and it aired in December. It highlighted our transition from full-time travel to part-time condo living. It was an interesting and tiring experience!

Which brings me to what’s next for us:

We plan to continue to travel in the Airstream — A LOT. It’s nice to have a home base to return to when we need a break or something comes up, but we miss being on the road. We’ll get back out there once we feel comfortable doing so, which for us means when we’re both vaccinated. It’s been nice to take a pause and enjoy some of the things you give up when you live tiny, such as a kingsize bed, a dishwasher, a washer & dryer, and easy access to our mail, medical care, and good grocery stores. There’s still so much left to explore! And we aren’t really cold winter people, so we’re looking forward to seeking out warmth in the coming winters.

We’re wishing everyone a safe and healthy 2021! Hopefully, we’ll see you somewhere out there!

 

One Gorgeous Night at Voyageurs National Park

Voyageurs National Park is one of those under-the-radar national parks — so much so that when we told people we were stopping there on our way back to Bozeman after visiting family in Wisconsin, most people had never heard of it. Voyageurs is named for the 18th century French Canadian adventurers that canoed through the area lakes and rivers, transporting furs and other goods. It’s located along Minnesota’s northern border and some of the parks lakes are shared with Canada, so visitors to Voyageurs need to be aware of their location so as not to inadvertently improperly cross the border. The red dot on the below map of Minnesota signifies the park’s location.

Besides the three visitor centers and a couple of trails on the mainland, Voyageurs is a water centered park. Very little of the park is accessible without a boat to traverse the four major lakes — Rainy, Kabetogama, Sand Point, and Namakan. Unfortunately, COVID put the kibosh on exploring the park via one of the visitor centers (they were all closed) or a ranger-led boat tour (they were all cancelled for the year). The only camping within the park is tent camping, and requires boat access and a permit. In a typical year, some campsites can be accessed via boat tours, but many require reserving a canoe and paddling to your destination.

Woodenfrog Campground is an excellent place to stay with an RV or tent when visiting the area, as it’s centrally located on the shore of Kabetogama Lake, and about a 10-minute drive to the Kabetogama Lake Visitor Center.

Woodenfrog State Forest Campground

County Road 122, Kabetogama, MN 56669

www.exploreminnesota.com

  • 61 First Come, First Served Primitive Sites
  • Picnic Table
  • Fire Ring
  • Vault Toilets
  • Drinking Water
  • 2 Boat Docks within Campground
  • Picnic Area, Boat Ramp, Swim Beach and Interpretive Center in Day Use Area

Due to time and weather constraints, we were only able to spend one night at Woodenfrog. We arrived at the campground around 1pm on Wednesday, September 23rd. Approximately half of the sites were available, so we were able to drive through and pick out a site that suited our needs. There are some sites with lake views, but they were all occupied, mostly by tents, probably due to how unlevel those particular sites are. The size, privacy, and levelness varies greatly from site to site, so I’m glad that it was not busy and we were able to take our time scouting out sites. (This involved Travis staying in the truck while I got out and ran up the road to check out the available sites so that we didn’t have to circle back around.) We ended up in site 43 — a very deep, very level site with a good amount of privacy that is located next to a water spigot (which was turned off by the time we visited) and across the street from a vault toilet (which we didn’t use). We were also able to get plenty of sun to keep our batteries charged via our solar panels.

Even though boat tours were not available during our visit, Arrowhead Lodge, a private resort located right next to the day use area of the campground, had canoes and kayaks available for rent. If we would have stayed another day, we definitely would have rented a kayak to get out on the water and explore some of the islands.

Late September was the perfect time to visit Voyageurs to be submerged in the beauty of the changing leaves. The campground, including our site, as well as the islands scattered across Kabetogama Lake, were all putting on a brilliant seasonal display that seemed to be at peak during our visit. We had never experienced such gorgeous fall colors and were so glad that we visited during this time, even if it was just for one night.

We would love to return to Voyageurs National Park when everything is fully operational and we’d have the opportunity to paddle out to an island to camp for a few nights. This is such a unique park and definitely worth a visit! Combine it with visits to Northern Wisconsin’s Apostle Island National Lakeshore and Northern Michigan’s Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and you’ll get to experience some of the best the Midwest had to offer.

A Brief Stay in the UP: Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and Bay Furnace Campground

As we drove from our previous stay at North Bay Shore County Park in Oconto, Wisconsin to Bay Furnace Campground in Munising, Michigan, we were awestruck by the beauty of the landscape of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula — from the gorgeous views, homes, and towns along the shores of Green Bay and Little Bay de Noc to the northern coast of the peninsula on Lake Superior. We didn’t know much about Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, which helped to keep expectations low, but I can honestly say that it’s in the top few destinations for one of the most beautiful places we have visited in all of our travels.

Our original plan for visiting Pictured Rocks was to stay at Kewadin Casino, which is located across the street from the Hiawatha National Forest’s Bay Furnace Campground. The casino is free and offers a few sites with electric hookups. However, when we were about to turn into the casino, we decided to take a spin through the campground to see if there were any available sites. About half the sites are reservable and the other half first come, first served. I had previously checked on recreation.gov and all of the reservable sites were booked. Reviews on Campendium let me know that this is a very popular campground in the area, so we weren’t sure what we’d find, but figured we could just stick with our original plan of the casino if nothing was available. We arrived in the area on Thursday, September 17th at around 1:00pm. There are two loops in the campground and we passed the first to drive through the second. We immediately came upon Site 2 on the left and it was empty. It looked like a fantastic site, so we snagged it. We then did a very quick walk around the loop and only found one other site available. Site 2 was large, deep, private, and level. Its only drawback — full shade. This meant we never got much sun to our solar panels, and even in the middle of the day with a cloudless sky, it was always dark in the Airstream. Small sacrifices to make for such a great site in such a great location. There are a few sites with a decent amount of sun to be found in each of the loops, but they all seemed to be reservable sites. Also, any of the sites with views of Lake Superior (this campground sits right on the cliff overlooking the lake) were also reservation only. However, those sites seemed to be quite a bit colder due to the wind off of the lake, and it was already pretty cold during our stay.

We didn’t realize it when we were there, but right before the campground sits the Bay Furnace Historic Site, which contains the ruins of a historic blast furnace that is the only thing remaining of an iron-making settlement called Onota that was destroyed by a fire in 1877. Apparently there’s a short trail around the furnace with informative signs.

Bay Furnace Campground – Hiawatha National Forest

E7900 W, M-28, Munising, MI 49862

www.recreation.gov

  • Mixture of Reservable and First Come, First Served Sites
  • Dry Camping
  • Water Available
  • Dump Station
  • Vault Toilets
  • Fire Pits
  • Picnic Tables
  • Firewood for Sale from Camphosts
  • Day-Use Picnic Area

After getting settled into our site, we drove about 25 minutes to the Miners Falls Trail. At 50 feet tall, Miners Falls is the park’s most powerful waterfall. The trail is about 1.2 miles roundtrip and has 140 feet of elevation gain. It’s an easy, popular hike that allows dogs, but when we went at about 3:30, there were few people. The trail is wide and well defined, but does involve some stairs towards the end in order to get down to the falls.

After the Miners Falls hike, we drove over to Miners Castle Overlook, which is the most popular spot in the park. However, at 4pm on a mid-September Thursday afternoon, it wasn’t overly congested, and pretty much everyone was wearing a mask. There are three different easily-accessible overlooks giving three different viewpoints of Miners Castle, which is probably the most iconic landmark at Pictured Rocks.

From there, we headed over to Miners Beach to get an up close look at the vibrant turquoise water. Miners Beach is about a mile long and reminded us so much of a Pacific Ocean beach!

On day 2 of our Pictured Rocks visit, we did the Chapel Loop hike. Many places list this hike as 10.1 miles, but pretty much every review agrees with our assessment — it’s longer than that. We clocked almost 11.5 miles roundtrip with over 830 feet of elevation gain. The full loop took us past Chapel Falls, Chapel Rock, Chapel Beach and continued along the Pictured Rocks cliffs to Mosquito River and Beach, then past Mosquito Falls as we made our way back to the parking lot. It’s not a difficult trail, per say, just long. While it is a loop trail, there are a number of trails that branch off of the main trail to get to various overlooks, waterfalls, and campgrounds, and some times it’s not completely clear which way is the right way. We hit the trailhead a little after 8am on a Friday morning and there were only about 7 or 8 vehicles in the parking lot. However, when we left the parking lot around 1:30pm, the parking lot was full and there were cars at least a mile down the road. Speaking of the road, it was a really rough drive in. We were impressed that a paved road was both washboard and riddled with potholes — a feat we had never seen achieved before. When we left the parking lot after the hike, it was apparent someone had come in with many truckloads of gravel and fixed the road a decent amount while we were hiking. As a matter of fact, towards the end of the road, we ended up right behind the gravel trucks. I’m not sure if the road is always terrible and has to be repaired often, or if we caught the last day of it being crappy right before they fixed it.

Chapel Falls
Chapel Falls
Chapel Rock
Chapel Beach
Chapel Beach
View of Chapel Rock from Chapel Beach
Views Along the Cliffs
Views Along the Cliffs
Lovers Leap Arch
Grand Portal Point
Seven miles in and still smiling!
We had never seen a campground pit toilet like this before. Great view; little privacy.
At the 9-mile mark; wondering how much further.
Along the Mosquito River
Mosquito Falls

Our assessment of this trail is that while there are beautiful views for about five miles of it, most of the trail is just a hike through the forest. Don’t me wrong, we love ourselves some forest hikes, but not 6.5 miles worth on an 11.5-mile hike. We went counter clockwise, which seems to be the way most people go, which means you run into few people if you do the entire loop. Some people seem to take the trail as far as Chapel Rock and then turn around, which is about seven miles roundtrip. If you take the loop in a clockwise direction, you deal with most of the elevation gain right away. We had high expectations of this trail because of how much people gushed about it on AllTrails, some even stating it’s the best trail they’ve hiked east of the Mississippi. After that kind of build up, we were disappointed, but most likely because we’ve had the opportunity to hike some amazing trails throughout the country with jaw dropping views and wildlife experiences.

After the hike, per recommendation from another RVer, we stopped by Muldoons to pick up some pasties (pronounced past-ee as opposed to paste-ee). Pasties are an Upper Peninsula thing and are basically a handheld meat or vegetable pie. According to the Muldoons website:

In approximately 1864, Finnish immigrants, along with Cornish miners, came to find work in the “Copper Country” of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Pasties were the perfect, hardy meal for the miners. Their wives were able to use the potatoes and meat from leftovers, and envelope them in a crust which could be placed in the miners’ pockets in the morning, and they would still be warm at lunchtime. Pasties came to be known as a “one-handed meal.” The miners, with their dirty hands, could hold on with one hand and eat their way through the pasty, leaving only a small crust left over. To this day, pasties remain a staple food and tradition for many Upper Peninsula families.

We also picked up a box of delicious home-made fudge for dessert!

Another way to explore Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is by boat through Pictured Rocks Cruises. Missy isn’t big on boats, especially boats on water as rough as Lake Superior was when we visited, so we opted to explore the area by land instead. There are definitely more hikes and waterfalls and shops and restaurants to experience in this area, but we feel we got a good feel for the beauty and serenity of Pictured Rocks. We 100% would visit again and would definitely try to stay at Bay Furnace Campground again.

North Bay Shore County Park – Oconto, WI

After spending eight nights at the fairgrounds in our hometown, we were ready to stay somewhere a little more rural with a lot more space. As we made our way from our week-long stay in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, we spent two nights at North Bay Shore County Park. This lovely little park is in Northeastern Wisconsin on the shore of Green Bay, about halfway between Oconto and Peshtigo. North Bay Shore is less than 25 minutes from the state border cities of Marinette, Wisconsin and Menominee, Michigan, and a little more than 2.5 hours from our next destination — Bay Furnace Campground in Munising, Michigan by Pictured Rocks.

Sometimes we get dazzled when we pull into a new campground/RV park. This was one of those times. This campground is small with 34 large, spread-out sites and is very well cared for. While the sites on the inner part of the loop are a little difficult to get into due to the placement of the site number signs, all of the sites are deep and seem to be level. A handful of sites back up to the bay and all sites have nice tree cover, with leaves that were starting to turn as we moved into autumn. Some sites appear to be tent sites, but still offer electricity. The RV sites have water and electric, and there’s a dump station available. The park also offers a boat launch and a nice jetty from which to fish. The nightly rate for this campground is $30, but they offer a midweek special August to October of $15 Monday through Wednesday. We happened to stay on a Tuesday and Wednesday night, so we only paid $30 (plus $5 reservation fee) for our two-night stay.

North Bay Shore County Park

500 Bay Road, Oconto, WI 54153

www.co.oconto.wi.us

  • RV Sites with Water & Electric
  • Tent Sites with Electric
  • Restrooms with Showers
  • Level, Blacktopped Sites
  • Waterfront Sites
  • Dump Station
  • Picnic Table
  • Fire Ring (Firewood for Sale Onsite)
  • Playground
  • Boat Launch
  • Fish Cleaning Station
  • Basketball Court
  • Camp Host (Referred to as ‘Caretaker’ – Seemed to Be MIA During Our Stay)
  • Recycling
Site 10 is a level, blacktopped site with W/E hookups
We had so much space between us and the neighboring sites!
The sites across from us backed up to Green Bay.
It was pretty empty our first night, but by Wednesday night, all of the RV sites were full.
The leaves were starting to change during our stay!
Two other Airstreams parked across from us on the second day.
There’s a nice little area to fish…
…or you can head out to the jetty.
Even the easily-accessible dump station had nice views!

There isn’t a whole lot happening in the immediate vicinity, be we did check out Copper Culture State Park, which was a short drive from the campground. The park is a small historic park that contains an ancient burial ground used by the Old Copper Complex Culture of early Native Americans during the Copper Age. There’s a small museum onsite which was closed when we visited, but we did walk the grounds along a short trail that winds through fields of wildflowers.

This was a perfect and peaceful two-night stopover and we would definitely stay at North Bay Shore Park again!