A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about camping

From the Great Lakes to the Mississippi and beyond

sunny 25 °C
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We spent another two days getting our van fully tested. To do that, we started sleeping in the van in Janis’ driveway. Sam also tested most technical features and discovering some issues that require fixing. Luckily enough the guys at Art’s RV were kind enough to check our van. They had a new anode for our heating system on stock (we hardly recognized that this was the part we needed, as it did not look at all like the worn part we had in our van) and they were able to order a part to replace our leaking gas valve.

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In addition, we did some shopping such that our van now features among others new colorful carpets, a doormat and a new folding table. So eventually on Thursday May 5 we were all set and it was time to say goodbye to Janis, Phil and Sam in Glenview. But not before they had written into our guest book. Everybody who has been at our place knows that our guests are always asked to write into the book. As this is such a nice routine and flipping through it brings back so many nice memories, we figured we might as well continue that tradition while traveling around.
Our plan was to spend a couple of hours in Chicago on Thursday. We were lucky to find street parking and set off in freezing temperatures (it’s the Windy City after all) to take the L train into town. After a stop in the beautiful and huge City Library, we headed off to famous Buckingham fountain in Grant park. Unfortunately, a lady advised us not to approach the fountain. But it did not feature water yet anyhow – no wonder given the freezing temperatures the last couple of days. After the mandatory stop in Millennium Park at the Bean we had to get back to our car again, as the parking spot unfortunately had a two hours maximum parking limit. And we did not want to risk a ticket already in the first week.

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As we had decided to take the scenic route South, we got to see along Lake Shore Drive not only Adler Planetarium, the Field Museum and Soldier Field, but also the Museum of Science and Technology in Hyde Park. Most likely many people would avoid driving through Chicago’s South Side. When I was in high school I sometimes spent my weekends at my friend Precious’ place and usually our weekend count of white people was below five. Still, at bright daylight on one of the larger streets, there was no reason why we should not go that way. Everything looked pretty well kept, even though it was obvious that the neighborhoods cannot benefit from the same income level as on the North Side or in the suburbs.
After a night in Carol and Pete’s driveway in Oak Lawn where we benefited from lots of traveling hints from Dave and the scheduled visit at Art’s RV, we were ready to leave Chicagoland headed Southwest. Even though we pretty much followed Route 66, we consciously decided to stay on the interstate to get moving forward more quickly. With all the national parks and scenery waiting for us in the Southwest, we can’t wait to get there. And even though that might not do some of the sights in the Midwest justice, even having five months in North America require us to make some choices.
We spent our first night at campground in Sangchris State Park outside Springfield, IL. We had planned to stock up on our groceries just before getting to the prk in Rochester, the small town with a population of 3400. Our first stop was at the local hardware store which had everything Sam desired to buy on stock. While this was true for the hardware store, we were not as lucky in regards to groceries. Seemingly Rochester is too small to have a grocery store of it’s own and we had to go back the five miles into Springfield to do our shopping.
We found a really nice spot in the Deer Run campsite. Best of all: it featured very nice neighbors. Tim and Barb were on an outing with their six-year-old grandson Nigel. So Max had a companion to play with and later at night all of us were sitting together at their campfire. What a nice start into our adventures.
A late start into the next morning brought us to St. Louis in the late afternoon. It was fairly straight forward to find parking downtown, but it was also a bit spooky to hear from a guy passing by that a girl just had her car stolen around the corner from where we were. Still, we figured that our rather old car would not classify for being stolen. Still, we rather took all valuables and passports with us. The skyline of St. Louis featuring the Gateway Arch is spectacular. Still, Max was by far more attracted by the lively Citygarden. At the first time around he limited himself to biking once through the fountain area. The second time around he was unstoppable and eventually even jumped into the pool. He had fun and luckily the temperatures allowed for getting wet without having a set of changing clothes with us.

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We ended our day at Meramac Caves and were surprised to find the campground there almost empty despite the fact that it was a Saturday evening. So we chose a spot next to the river, not too far away from the playground and enjoyed our second night camping out.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 08:03 Archived in USA Tagged fountain chicago leaving camping springfield st.louis Comments (1)

Moving West and first camping experiences

sunny 30 °C
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As we were having technical issues to access the internet for the first couple of days, we simply used a good old map (thanks Janis!) and still got along fine. Even though the scale is not enormous, it shows enough for us to find the interesting places. And as not all campgrounds are shown in the map, but all state and national parks are, this is where we went. Already our very first experience in Sangchris Lake State Park had been excellent. And while at Meramac Caves we accidentally ended up in a private campground vs. the State Park a couple of miles further on, we also liked that location in a small valley directly next to a river very much.
So no wonder that Sam picked another State Park for our first night in Oklahoma. The Map read ‘Honey C. S.P.’ next to Grove, OK and that’s where we wanted to go. As we had left fairly late from our previous campsite, it was already quite late, everyone was hungry (and who knows me, knows that I’m then usually not in my best mood). So after a couple of unsuccessful tries in locating the state park, we eventually decided to go back to one of the two RV parks we had seen along the way.
Eagles’ Landing RV Park was located next to a large lake and seemed very nice at first sight. Unfortunately, the nice location had a hefty price tag of 45$ (vs. 20$ which we’d most likely have paid at the state park). In addition, the pool turned out to be a pool table only and the playground was located far away from the water in the section of the 40’ RVs. What turned out to be strangest of all were the bathrooms though: They featured a sign ‘bathrooms open now – new and remodeled’ and in fact they tiles used were quite classy. But as it seems in the refurbishment it was forgotten put in bathroom doors – very strange!
The extremely windy and cloudy weather did not help either to make up for the other topics, so despite the nice location more than 300’ away from all other campers directly at the water we were happy to leave the next morning.
Sam got to drive the part when it was pouring rain to Tulsa and I got the sunshiny bit to Oklahoma City. That’s where we took a lunch break at a park with a huge playground. Max loved it – especially the climbing wall and the slides. He easily made friends with a younger boy and it would have been very hard to eventually get him to leave if he wouldn’t have been stung by a bee into the foot. Some cooling and five gummi-bears later he was happy again. But he was afraid his foot would hurt too much and therefore did not want to go back to the playground.
So we headed off to our next destination, the Red Rock Canyon State Park a bit west of Oklahoma City. It had sounded nice on the map and in fact it turned out to be very nice. The canyon was maybe a mile long, the weather was bright sunny, there were hardly any other campers and we found a spot directly nest to a playground. Perfect!

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So after four days of driving it was time to make a break and stay for longer than just one night.
We enjoyed a full day taking it easy and exploring the canyon. And in the evening we finally cracked the internet issues and stayed up late to upload another blog entry. The pictures were not ready yet, but never mind, at least one entry was live again…
Our next destination was Palo Duro Canyon State Park. Even though most people never heard of that canyon, it is in fact the second largest canyon in the US after Grand Canyon. We had heard about it once before in a picture documentary of the Rotenburg songwriter Shiregreen at the Hünfeld Stadtcafe. So we knew that we definitively wanted to go there. And it was definitively worth the detour from Amarillo.
The first night we already realized that all around our campsites were holes in the earth – the home of some hamster like creatures (we’re not really sure what animal it was). On the next morning we were welcomed by a group of turkeys – one male with four hens following him.

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From our campsite we took a great outing along the river ‘Paseo der Rio’ and then went part of the way to the Palo Duro landmark rock formation ‘Lighthouse’. Max was doing the full way with his little bike. Soon after starting the Lighthouse trail, he attempted a detour and fell into a cactus – but after removing all of the spikes, was ready to start over right away. It was a very fun outing with great sights along the way – the red colors of the rock contrasted really nicely with the blue sky.

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The next morning, we were greeted at our campsite by some deer. Not shy at all, they were grazing directly next to the tents and RVs. Really nice!

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We then headed off towards New Mexico and were amazed by the wealth of information that we were given at the welcome information center directly at the border. Based on that information we defined our plan for today and the next days. We wanted to head into Santa Fe and then head north west from there.
So that’s what we did: after a long day of driving with more than 320 miles, we arrived at our campground in the Santa Fe National Forest. We were lucky to still get a site, as it was already quite late on a Friday afternoon.
And contrary to Palo Duro, we were allowed to make a campfire. Max enjoyed sausages, we enjoyed some steak – excellent!
That evening we also met a couple of German travelers – easily recognizable by the German license plate on their van. They had started their journey in Buenos Aires in November, were going down to Patagonia and all the way up along the Panamericana. They will be travelling until July when they’ll head back to Germany. They gave us a couple of tips on where to go and we returned them the favor by telling about the places we stayed in lately. It’s always great to meet others who are sharing the same passion in regards to travelling.
Saturday morning, we headed into Santa Fe and were surprised by free parking due to the Community Day which took place at the central plaza. What an excellent coincidence. This was the perfect opportunity to see lots of locals and children in action, to see what the local clubs and community programs are like and to admire the fire engine No 1 and the Mustang police car.

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But independently from that special event, we had an excellent impression of Santa Fe. It looks like a really sympathetic place to be. The local style of architecture and the good food certainly help…

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 22:17 Archived in USA Tagged wildlife canyon camping texas newmexico oklahoma Comments (0)

Changing plans

From Tsagaan Suvraga via Tsogttsetsii to Dalanzadgad

sunny 19 °C
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Riding through the Mongolian steppe, we passed the winter camp of a nomad family. They were very busy. In spring time, they are shearing their camels. It was interesting to see how they got the camels to lay down and how they cut the dense fur by hand. We were surprised how many kids in school age were around. The explanation was easy: due to the heavy workload in spring, there are two weeks of school vacation such that the kids can help at home. Usually, the kids would be in boarding school in the next town – as distances are mostly by far too much as to cover them on a daily base.

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We rode almost 100 km on nature tracks, Along the way, we passed several ovoos again and learned the quick way of asking for luck: instead of walking around it three times, three honks of the horn will do as well. And hopefully that guarantees not having an accident like one of the cars we came across in the steppe. What followed was a brief interlude of 30 km of excellent tarmac, after which we headed off onto another track. Unfortunately, that track turned out to be extremely worn and not suitable for fast traveling.

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All of us were relieved about the break we had at a small well. There were camels, cattle and two large herds of sheep and goats. The nomads were making sure that the two herd didn’t mix. Otherwise that would mean a lot of effort to separate them again into the two groups – distinguished by the color of their horns. It was lots of fun to watch the thirsty animals trying to get to the water.

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A bit further we stopped for lunch before the rattling on the bad track restarted. Eventually we reached the town of Tsogttsetsii where we got fuel and Amgaa had his tire exchanged at a small workshop.
We had covered already over 180km on partially bad tracks and were relieved that the remaining 160km would be on an asphalted toll-road. Well, we were wrong. After having driven for about 40 km on the asphalt road, we wished to go offroad onto a track. It turned out that the asphalt road was by far worse than anything we had driven on so far. A piece of acceptable asphalt was followed by large holes of more than 30cm depth that were distributed over the complete width of the road such that avoiding them was impossible. The road was absolutely destroyed by the countless trucks transporting coal, copper and gold from the mines either towards Ulaanbaatar or towards China.
After briefly assessing the situation and considering the fact that we’d need to come back on exactly that road again after having spent two days at a monastery, also dubbed ‘the world energy center’, we easily concluded that we were not keen on doing that at all. We’d rather skip that item on our tour program and spend more time at the others vs. having to endure a couple of hours of being shaken to the bones on that awful road.
Luckily, Oogii and Amgaa agreed to our proposal to head towards the center of the South-Gobi province, Dalanzadgad. As there were works going on to build a new train connection from the mines towards China, it turned out to be a bit difficult to find the turn off for the track towards the capital of the district of South-Gobi. And in the attempt of getting onto the right track, we suddenly found ourselves stuck in a river bed which seemed like a field of stones in soft sand. Even though our 4wd was still not operational, it took us just two attempts to get the Furgon unstuck and up outside of the river bed.
Soon afterwards, Amgaa had found the track towards Dalanzadgad and after a bit of driving we took a sharp right turn off the track for about a kilometer in order to find a secluded camping spot. We were protected in a small depression and had a nice view of the flats underneath us and the mountains behind. Camping in Mongolia is simply great!
And there’s one more thing that is great: seemingly there’s almost everywhere mobile reception. No matter in how remote areas we had been driving up to now, most of the time Oogii and Amgaa were able to make phone calls.

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Right next to our campsite, Max and Sam found some wildlife. A small lizard seemed to be frozen in place and even the rare Mongolian gerbil proved not to be fast enough for them to have a closer look. After everyone had a look, they released it again next to its burrow.

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It felt great to be at camp and not to be stuck in our Furgon any longer. Being in a great spot and not hearing any sound of human provenance anywhere around – that’s what we love. And as being outside in nature is the point of our travel in Mongolia and not necessarily checking one sight after the next, we felt great about our change in plans.

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The next morning, we had 130 km of track to cover in order to reach the town of Dalanzadgad – the center of the Southern Gobi district. The track was good, but we continued to be amazed at the ease with which Amgaa decided at the various forks in the road which one of the tracks to take. For us they looked all the same – none more pronounced than the other and both of them looking as if they were going roughly into the same direction.
Amgaa was driving without any GPS or even a detailed map of the area. His explanation was that driving these tracks in Mongolia requires you to have a GPS in your mind. He is able with his sense of direction, the sun and a couple of landmarks to easily find his way from A to B. And should he miss a marker such as a well, the winter camp of some nomads or a specific hill shape, we’d know that he has strayed and would go into the right direction to just get back onto his original course. Wow… We’d be lost, that’s for sure!

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We arrived in Dalanzadgad just in time for lunch and afterwards Amgaa dropped us at our hotel for the night. We had originally not foreseen to stay at any hotels during our tour, but Amgaa needed some time to get the 4wd of the Furgon fixed. He also wanted to investigate some other problems sorted, which might require getting spares delivered from Ulaanbaatar which could then only be fixed the next morning.
We were happy as well about this plot and did not mind having a place with a shower after a couple of nights of camping. The hotel Ongi Tov offered everything we needed: a clean and big bed and a bathroom, but in fact it was nothing special – well except if you’re in dire need of a toothbrush or condoms… In that case, you’d be thrilled about the excellent features of the hotel.
Exploring town in the intent of shopping at a supermarket proved to be dustier than expected. About 100m after leaving the hotel, we got caught in the middle of a small dust devil and the laboriously washed hair was dusty once again.
We soon located the supermarket and were surprised about the presence of military personnel from various countries. Seemingly an international conference was taking place in town during that week and we had been lucky to even still get a room in a hotel. A day later the town would have been cut off for tourism and we would have needed to make a large detour around it.
The remainder of the day we spent in our hotel room. Max was delighted to be allowed to watch some TV, while we enjoyed having power to recharge our electronic equipment and to use the wifi for uploading another article for the blog. The only bad news was that that evening also marked the death of our mobile phone. Let’s see if we’ll be able to get its black screen fixed in Ulaanbaatar. But for the next two weeks, we’d live without the pleasures of checking and marking our GPS position on the map, making videos and quick snapshots or simply using it to read eBooks or to let Max listen to audio stories. All of that is no disaster. After all, before this journey we had not even possessed a smartphone. Still, specifically for the long stretches of driving, we would now not be able to keep Max as easily entertained as we had imagined.
Amgaa picked us up the next day with his newly repaired Furgon. Thanks to a couple of spare parts he had especially delivered from Ulaanbaatar, the 4wd and a couple of other issues had now been fixed and we were ready to hit the road again.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 22:55 Archived in Mongolia Tagged well camping track camel dust asphalt steppe Comments (0)

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