Pushing east to Iowa

Having spent a too short visit at our 30th and 31st National Parks (Wind Cave and Badlands) we headed east for our planned weekend visit with daughter Andrea and her boyfriend Nate near Ames, Iowa before her classes start for the semester.  Normally we might split this 550 mile trip into two roughly equal parts, but I wanted to do the bulk of it on day one, and we didn’t find any particularly great one night stops at the approximate half way point.  Instead our research pointed us to yet another casino resort that offered $16 a night partial (30 amp electrical) hook ups shortly after crossing into Iowa at about 3/4 point of the journey,

Our arrival there, however, was noticeably delayed by another flat tire.  Turns out that the three we had replaced just before leaving the Keys this year were not the last of the old tires, but rather two old tires and one more recently replaced one that had suffered extensive damage in its short lifespan on our wheel, apparently due to a bad valve.  Though still holding air, it was in such bad shape when the mechanic pulled it off from the right rear inside axle this last winter we just assumed it was the last of the old ones.

Unfortunately not, as the actual last of the ten year old rubber gave way during our long run through South Dakota.  It was on the left rear inside, and didn’t blow out badly, just a minor hole with full deflation, causing a significant vibration.  Since it was on the rear with a new tire beside it, we were able to creep along to Mitchell, SD at low speeds to the only tire shop in the area that carried our size.  After an hour, during which we explored the town’s ongoing street fair, TMA Tire and Muffler had us back on the road.

Our run of casinos in California, Oregon, and Washington had accustomed us to a useful pattern: generally safe (with one obvious exception) and free overnight parking supplemented by some free gambling money for new “players club” members.  With birthday month promotions, additional free play money for signing up for email or text alerts, or even downloading their specific smart phone ap, we were used to getting, on average, $15 to $40 in free play slot money between the two of us, along with sporadic food and drink discounts.

A basic, but safe and powered RV section at WinnaVegas.

Montana and the Dakotas, however, had been a disappointment in this regard, since every gas station and bar had a handful of electronic poker or bingo machines, the actual casino resorts were thus few and far between.  So it was sort of a nice surprise to get back to a traditional casino resort, and WinnaVegas in Sloan, IA provided us with $40 in free play between us, which we turned into exactly $40 in real money during our one night stay.

The last available electrical site at Ledges State Park on our arrival day.

The next morning we finished our push to the Ames, IA area, pulling into Ledges State Park in the early afternoon.  This is a great little park, with a significant portion of their sites being first come first serve.  Since we were arriving on a Saturday the park the electrical hook up section of the park was filling up fast. As the drizzling rain increased, we were fortunate enough to snag the very last available powered site.  Situated in a forest with moderate to heavy canopy in most sites, this is sort of our ideal situation: a state park, cheap ($16 a night) with power and plenty of green space.

Andrea and Nate met us for dinner at our campsite the first day, bringing along Iowa’s primary food source, pork chops, which we turned into juicy slabs on our trusty Weber propane grill, along with slicer tomatoes from the local food co-op and roasted brussel sprouts.  We tossed in our Montana Glacier Winery Black Current Desert Wine to finish off a fantastic culinary evening.

The next day Andrea and Nate brought along a couple of their rock climbing friends for a short day hike into Ledges’ canyon area.  The smallish park has a few great views of the gorge and a creek running through it, but it was just a bit too hot and muggy to really enjoy the exertion.  We finished the day with a trip to Alluvial Brewing for a pint or two of excellent local craft beer.

One last note about Ledges State Park: Pad Kee Meow loved this place, and sadly, the reason why is the plentiful prey.  Despite us keeping her on a lead she managed to kill one, possibly two voles (the second one might have simply been the corpse of the first one she rediscovered after I had tossed it.)  We are not in the habit of allowing, much less encouraging, our cat to wage murderous warfare on the local denizens, but sometimes we are not restrictive enough to prevent it.

PKM, on the prowl.

On our final day we met up at Cafe Beaudelaire, a Brazilian restaurant with fantastic sandwich offerings, along with tasty garlic yuca.  The serving sizes were sufficient to allow an entire leftover meal the next day.  That would be it for Ames, as Andrea had classes and and a job to deal with, and we needed to get underway in our plan to sprint north into Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Exhausted after a day of killing.

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Our revised plan for the rest of 2017

We have stuck to our route plan this year rather well.  Sure, we lingered longer than expected in Texas and Arizona, and our Mexico dental work side trip slowed things a touch such that we reached California later than expected.  But we moved up the west coast fairly fast, and despite spending a month in Washington, we made up time with a relatively fast sprint across the top of the country to the Dakotas.  We took stock a few weeks ago and examined three options for our post Dakotas route and time line back to Florida:

  1. Stick to the Original Plan: From South Dakota turn southwest towards Utah and Colorado to see several of the national parks we missed during 2015.  After that, sprint east to Iowa to see daughter Andrea, then turn towards Florida for an early November arrival.
  2. Head to Iowa for family time, then hunker down somewhere cheap before making a very leisurely return trip to Florida, arriving in late October.
  3. Head to Iowa, but from there turn north and sprint to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula for three weeks or so before turning south for a late October arrival in Florida.

Option 1 is likely the most expensive of the three.  It involves more mileage and thus higher gas expenditures, takes us to not particularly cheap areas, and we are not approved for any markets along that route.  The advantage is we get to see all, or at least some, of the five national parks we missed in 2015, and Utah and Colorado are beautiful!

Option 2 is certainly the cheapest.  It involves the least mileage and allows us to pick affordable places to stay with possible weekly rate discounts, though again, we are not approved for any markets in the region.

Option 3, as far as costs go, is in the middle, involving perhaps $300 in additional gas expenditures compared to Option 2, along with taking us to a place with somewhat higher campground and living expenses than Option 2 (though probably pretty competitive if not less expensive than Option 1.)  This route also takes us to a place where we have, essentially, pre-approval to participate in up to two markets a week during our stay.  Oh yeah, we also love the UP!

Anyone who as taken a peek at our Where Are We Now page already knows what we selected: Option 3, Iowa, then Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  We plan on being there until about September 24, my birthday, before heading south by an as yet to be determined route.  For those friends and acquaintances in the region, we will be splitting time between Grand Marais and Marquette, and we would love to meet up if you are available.