Musings

My Most Impossible Feat!

This summer, I took a break from craft shows to enjoy flea markets and to also rebuild a teardrop camper that I can use as a pop-up shop. With the teardrop, I’ll be able to travel to craft events farther away and perhaps even go back out to Yellowstone in Summer 2017. One can dream!

I found the teardrop on Craigslist and immediately jumped on it. This is something I’ve been wanting for a while now and the last few craft events trying to vend in the snow and wind was the last straw for me and my crumpled up festival tent. Strangely enough, an old acquaintance had built this teardrop a few years ago so it was great to see her and catch up. You can find her blog on the build at http://www.alligatorteardrop.com.

Sadly, the teardrop sustained some very serious water damage around the galley hatch and I had no idea how bad it was when I bought it. Once I got it home and began to peel back the layers, I realized that the water damage was completely throughout the camper and the entire thing would have to be demolished. This hasn’t stopped me though. I’m using the pieces as templates and reusing as much as I can. Honestly, I’m enjoying the crap out of taking the camper apart and I’m learning a lot as I go. Since I don’t know anything about building, this is the best way for me to feel confident in what I’m doing.

I will keep you posted as I progress but here is the beginning…

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Here’s the day I brought the wee one home. It’s so adorable!
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Here’s basically the condition it was in when I bought it. I knew from the start that I had a project ahead of me.
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As I peeled back the layers I realized that not only were the walls water damaged but the floor was as well. So…
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I’m stripping it down to the bare trailer. Here’s my mother looking at the disaster taking over her garage. It’s a lot of fun though and the demo is going easier than I expected!

 

 

Adventures

Haunted History in Cooperstown

This is very late in the making but I thought I’d share it. Last October, I went on an overnight stay to Cooperstown, New York with my mother and we had an incredible time. It’s amazing how refreshed you can feel after getting away for just a night. I love Cooperstown, especially in the fall because the setting is just idyllic and there’s a lot more to enjoy than just the Baseball Hall of Fame.

We began our day with a few slices of pizza, drove around for a little bit to enjoy the Halloween decorations, checked in to our hotel, took a little nappy and then hit the epic Ommegang Brewery….

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There it is! The mecca for beer enthusiasts: Ommegang Brewery! Where beer goes to die (because it’s heaven).
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I cannot recommend enough making tasting reservations ahead of time. Sadly, I didn’t get to whet my whistle because all of the tours were booked for the day. However, I did get to do some holiday shopping for my friends, family and lets be honest, mostly myself, in their gift shop so I can’t really complain.
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There’s my escort for this festive occasion, Ling Ling.

Then it was off to our ghost tour of Hyde Hall

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Hyde Hall, located in Glimmerglass State Park, is a National Historic Landmark and State Historic Site. They open it up for ghost tours in October and has been investigated on Syfy’s Ghost Adventures.

As soon as that tour was over, we had to hurry across town to the late-night ghost tour of the Farmer’s Museum. Sadly, I didn’t get any photos of the museum tour because it was pitch black, mostly outdoors and very rainy. Our tour guide took one of the worst tumbles I’d ever seen. I truly thought she had broken something but she was a trooper. I think she ended up more embarrassed than hurt. A part of the tour was sitting in on a performance of Poe’s Tell Tale Heart, which was astoundingly good. It was a one man show and he was extremely talented. I’d very much like to revisit the Farmer’s Museum in the daytime because the buildings had such history and their gift shop was pretty awesome. I even saw a book there by a girl that I went to college with. I never knew that she became an author so that tickled me.

Overall, both ghost tours were a lot of fun and I’d highly suggest them for history buffs and paranormal enthusiasts alike. Unfortunately, I didn’t run into any spirits that day although I had a strange inkling in Hyde Hall about people being pushed down this specific staircase and a minute later the tour guide told me that many people have been pushed down those stairs and that animals refuse to approach them. Humm… interesting. The Farmer’s Museum offered a séance at the end of the night but we didn’t join in because I’m not comfortable with such procedures but it’s an option for those adventurous souls.

The next day was spent slinking around the Otesaga Resort Hotel. To say that I’m kind of obsessed with this place is an understatement. Have you even been somewhere for the first time but you recognize it deep in your bones? That’s how I feel about this place. I found out about it because it was featured in an episode of Syfy’s Ghost Hunters (I honestly never get to watch the show but I happened to catch this episode) and I instantly recognized it. A few months later I dragged my boyfriend there to check the place out and have wanted to return ever since.

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You don’t have to book a room to enjoy the amenities of the Otesaga. There’s a couple bars and restaurants inside, a beautiful porch overlooking the lake and yes, there’s even golf.

After walking around Cooperstown, we packed up and headed home but first we had to make a stop at the Fly Creek Cider Mill & Orchard to fill our bellies with tasty food samples and get a whole ton of homemade canned goods. It honestly looked like I was stocking up for the end of days when I left that place. It’s been almost a year since this trip and I still have some goodies left. Fly Creek was worth the trip in and of itself.

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It was a rainy weekend but still fun. Here’s Ling Ling again, posing at Fly Creek.

Last but not least, Howe Caverns was our the way home so that had to be experienced. It had been way too long since I’d been there…probably twenty years, at least. It’s always amazing to take a stroll underground and view all of the formations. I wish I could sleep down there. It feels like being back in the womb again but not gross. Ha! I guess there are caverns out west that they turned into a hotel. I need to experience this.


So that was last October. This October is Gettysburg! Yup, my ghostly dream is coming true. I will keep you posted.

yellowstone national park

Yellowstone: Blacktail Pond

Blacktail Pond

Surveying the periphery of Blacktail Pond (aka. Shaky Lakes) is like surveying the moon. It feels very much like you’re bopping around on unknown, untested terrain. It takes hours of navigating through quicksand shorelines, animal bones (some sun-bleached and some too fresh for comfort), a bounty of sunning snakes, aggressive nesting birds, thousands of trout fry and the occasional large adult, tons of fluorescent blue and green shrimp tooling around, only to find two tadpoles! However, it’s more than crews have found in previous years. The shoreline is such a perilous mess that a few years ago a field crew member got sucked into the muck and sprained his ankle trying to get back out. We now have to wear ropes so that we can be rescued if the awful need arises.

Blacktail Pond moonscape

Since the site is right next to the road, we had to wear bright orange vests so all of our foibles were on full public display. I’m sure many tourists have great photos of me taking a header into the wetland.

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My field partner rated this site as her absolute least favorite. It’s beautiful to look at but it’s scary terrain if you’re not accustomed to walking on unsteady ground. I was cool with it until about half way through when my legs started to buckle from the stress of trying to not punch through the floating mats. Then, I grew a bit testy.

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The strangest thing we saw, besides the freshly dismembered bison carcass nearby (fresh meat = carnivores coming in droves), was a coyote that had just given birth. My field partner had heard strange baby noises coming from a nearby rocky den but was understandably way too freaked to investigate. Soon after, a very fatigued coyote appeared looking for food. The coyote circled around the wetland to meet up with a bunch of hikers on a trail. They had no idea she was there until they got to a small bridge and they discovered that she meant to pass them. Well, they freaked. As she breezed by, they all froze and just started shouting that it was a wolf. At this point, my field partner and I climbed to higher ground so we could watch it all unfold. It was too amusing to not savor. The hikers finally let her pass, after basically peeing themselves and tripping over one another. It was classic. Once free, she climbed up next to us and began hunting a ground squirrel a few feet away. It was so cool to see her spring into action so close up. She was so fast…but the squirrel was even faster and she ended up empty handed in the exchange. After catching her breath for a second, she gave us a knowing little nod, turned away and pranced right by the freaked out hikers again and went about her business elsewhere. It was a fantastic little moment.

 

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Adventures

An overview of my trip

So here is the final data on my little “vacation.” I did not intend to make driving to Yellowstone a vacation but it turned out that way. It was my third time making the trek from New York and I was absolutely dreading it. In years past, I never gave myself much time to enjoy the sights along the way and now that I have, I can tell you that this trip was perhaps one of the best vacations I’ve ever been on. And what usually, on average, takes me three nights took me six. Yup, six! I had the time–work doesn’t start until June 15th–so I figured that I’d use it to play tourist and enjoy myself. However, since I’m basically broke, I had to do it on the extreme cheap. In years past, I spent the night in hotels but there’s no way I could do that and still see all that I wanted to at an enjoyable pace so I opted to camp.

More than anything, I’m posting this to encourage you–especially those with kids–to revisit the all-American vacation, Griswold style. Hop into the family truckster, explore our country, hike, see the sights, sleep in nature, check out the largest ball of twine. It’s cheaper than most other vacations and as I’ve tried to convey in other posts, most attractions are free to enjoy. Things don’t have to be expensive. And you don’t have to have a new car or rent something spiffy. My Honda Civic officially has 205,481 miles on it and it got along just fine. And my camping gear is very basic and worn (a friend named my tent “the girl pee tent” because it smells bad) but I was comfortable and slept like a log. I even woke myself up (and probably my neighbors) snoring a few times.

  • Gas: $190.86
  • Gallons pumped: approximately 46.262
  • Miles driven: 1,715.70
  • Oil change: $43.63
  • Tolls: Ohio: $10.00, Indiana: $7.90, Illinois: $11.80
  • Lodging: Woodside Campground: $17.00, Chicago: free, Myre Big Island: $25.00, Mitchell KOA: $24.27, Badlands: free, Buffalo KOA: $31.88
  • Entrance fees: Lily Dale: off-season is free, 1880 Town: $12.00, Corn Palace: free, Badlands: free, Wall Drug: free, Big Horns: free, Buffalo Bill State Park: free, Shoshone National Forest: free, Yellowstone: $25.00 (free for me because of my research permit)
  • Food: $82.62

My total expenses for seven days and six nights of vacation was $456.96. This will be approximately doubled when it becomes a round trip, which is a little steep. However, think of it this way, if you invited another adventure-seeker along with you and split the cost of gas, tolls, the oil change and camping, you both could enjoy a 12 day, cross-country vacation for around $500 each. That’s extremely impressive. That’s around the same price as a single round-trip plane ticket to only one destination.

Comparison:
Three nights at the Super 8 probably would have cost me around $60/night: $180
Camping and visiting a friend for six nights: $98.15
So I cut my expenses by almost half and doubled my number of vacation days!

The offer is open to anyone who wants to fly out at the end of July and take the trip back with me. I plan to go south to Jackson Hole, then see some dinosaurs in Thermopolis, visit a petrified forest, hit the Reptile Gardens, camp in the Badlands again, definitely swing by Myre Big Island again and even get a psychic reading in Lily Dale. That’s if I finish my field season early…we shall see… The trip would be a lot more fun with someone equally up for adventure, plus expenses would be shared. Just an option if you’re looking to see the country.

Adventures, Travel

From Cody to Yellowstone. I've reached my destination!

Once I hit Cody it was smooth sailing. I was on the very last leg of my trip and I couldn’t wait. I stopped to get groceries, enjoyed an older gent playing accordion in front of the supermarket (very random) and got my oil changed. Yup, my Honda is purring like a kitten. That machine never ceases to amaze me. Cody is a fantastic little tourist town that features a rodeo just about every night. Continuing west on Route 16 is Buffalo Bill State Park featuring a huge reservoir and dam that was completed in 1910. I stopped to take these pics and a weasel scampered by me with a fish in its mouth. So mischievously awesome! Buffalo Bill State Park is free to enjoy and has a free visitors center, museum, beaches and has many camping opportunities.Buffalo Bill State ParkBuffalo Bill State Park

Then the drive winds through Shoshone National Forest, which–like a broken record–is beautiful, free and full of recreational possibilities.

Shoshone National ForestShoshone National ForestSoon after that is Yellowstone! Just as I hit the park I saw a sight I’d never seen before. I was lucky enough to catch two different groups of big horn sheep crossing the road. The only time I’ve seen them was as specks on a distant mountainside. This was a freakin’ treat! They were so close to me, within feet! I could see their bright orange-red eyes. I also caught a few glimpses of some fluffy, white elk butt on my way through and heard the calling of frogs beckoning me to come catch them. And I shall!

big horn sheepI arrived at the dorm at 5:30 pm and it’s the same as I had left it. They even had the same National Geographics sitting on the kitchen tables. Ahh…home sweet home. Right now the place is filled with lake trout biologists and fishermen. Two of them put on an impromptu concert last night complete with guitar, ukulele and singing. Oh, it’s going to be an interesting summer! It never ceases to amaze me that people pay me to work here when I should be paying them. No matter how bad the rest of my year is, at least I have this.

Adventures, Travel

The Big Horns and more…

Big Horn National Forest, WyomingBig Horn National Forest, WyomingBig Horn National Forest, WyomingBig Horn National Forest, WyomingBig Horn National Forest, WyomingBig Horn National Forest, WyomingBig Horn National Forest, WyomingI’ve got a soft spot for Buffalo. If I could live anywhere in the west, Buffalo would be in my top five. It’s small enough to not get lost but big enough to have all the creature comforts. The downtown is charming but not offensively touristy. It’s the gateway to Yellowstone and is located at the base of my beloved Big Horns. The KOA is immaculate and the tent sites are located next to a babbling brook with a waterfowl refuge on the other side. One of the maintenance workers stopped by my site to show me pictures of the forty baby geese that they have tromping though every morning. They’re so darn cute when they’re young. The storm system that I’d mentioned in my last post finally hit the area at around 7 am. I awoke to my tent nearly flying away with me in it. I had to quickly vacate, pick up the tent, stuff it into my car (still set-up) and dive into the backseat before anything flew away or flew at me. Overall though, after that day I had before, I was super grateful that the storm didn’t hit in the middle of the night. I was easily able to ride out the storm and catch a few more hours of sleep in my car until it was time to embark on my favorite part of the journey: Route 16! If there’s one stretch of road that you want to drive in your life, this may be it.

I left Buffalo at 10:30 am and headed into the Big Horn National Forest. This place is an unknown national treasure and I love it. It rivals Yellowstone for me. If you have to, skip Yellowstone, skip Glacier, skip Yosemite and just hit the Big Horns for a vacation. It’s snow covered mountains, vast canyons, lush grasslands, rolling rivers and majestic pine forests are absolutely beautiful and free to enjoy. There are campgrounds, lodges, skiing, hiking, fishing, horseback riding, snowmobiling, kayaking…anything recreational you can think of. I’m surprised it’s managed to fly under the radar for so long.

After the Big Horns is the tiny town of Ten Sleep (population 257) which may also be on my top five list of western towns that I’d live in. It’s so small and so quaint and better yet, I see that they’re opening a brewery. I may just have to pay them a visit on my way back. After that is miles and miles of rolling, sagebrush BLM land with oil drilling and livestock grazing. The landscape is absolutely beautiful and if you’re lucky you can catch a glimpse of an antelope butt on the hill next to you (they’re pretty proud of their best asset and will gladly feature it in the landscape). This stretch of road is all about dinosaurs (Themopolis–dinosaur central is not too far away), oil drilling, recreation, livestock, cowboys in beat-up pick-up trucks, bentonite clay extraction (this is what I make my toothpaste out of!), small towns and beautiful scenery. Cody, Wyoming comes almost too soon.

 

Adventures, Travel

Keystone, South Dakota to Buffalo, Wyoming

After the Badlands, I hit the road again with the intention of stopping off to see Mount Rushmore. My mother told me that I’d enjoy the little town of Keystone and Mount Rushmore is basically right there so I veered off Interstate 90. That area of the state is basically a hot spot for tourist sites, adventure and fun activities. It would take at least a week to see all there is to see there. Just in the thirty minute drive from Rapid City to Keystone there is the Reptile Gardens (the 2014 Guinness World Record holder for having largest collection of reptiles), Bear Country (a drive-through wild game park), some sort of Scandinavian village, a mystery spot and various other goodies. And speaking of the drive into Keystone…all I can say is that I almost simultaneously filled my drawers and puked at the same time. It was soooooo steep that my newly serviced brakes were hanging by a thread. I’m no stranger to downshifting on hills instead of riding the brakes. That’s my usual deal but this was way beyond my driving ability. The road went straight up and down mountains, with blind hairpin turns thrown in there for fun. I was forced to downshift AND ride my brakes just to stay in control. And Keystone was right at the bottom of one of the mountains. I have no idea how people escape getting smeared by runaway RV’s when trying to cross the road.

Needless to say, I had a hard time enjoying Keystone knowing that I had to endure another near death experience on the way out. To make matters worse, I was baking in the sun (Yes, I applied sunscreen twice to no avail and no, I wasn’t using Sweet Pea’s sunscreen. I decided to use up another brand before I dipped into mine. Never again.) and I ate at perhaps the worst restaurant ever. You know it’s bad when there are hundreds of tourists around and you’re the only one in the joint. People were walking in, looking around, grimacing and immediately leaving. It’s crazy what health & safety violations you’re willing to overlook when you’re hungry. I walked around for a bit, tried to make peace with impending food poisoning, felt my skin burning, and dreaded the trip out. I decided to get the heck out of dodge and totally skip Mount Rushmore. Yup, I was about two minutes from the national landmark and I skipped it. I was having a moment. Not wanting to retrace my steps, I took a back road to Hermosa and then back to Rapid City. This would be my suggested route if you’re looking for a drama-free approach from the north. There was only one scary spot and I held my breath through it. I never thought I’d be so happy to see Interstate 90 again but I was over the freakin’ moon.

Soon after that I hit a storm with 60 mph winds and quarter size hail. Yup, this was not my day. Eventually, I made it to my regular KOA stop in Buffalo, Wyoming and was able to shake things off a bit.

Adventures, Travel

Wall Drugs & The Badlands, South Dakota

After 1880 Town, I stopped by Wall Drugs because….well you just have to. It’s an institution and the hundreds of billboards starting from the state line serve to create an insatiable pavlovian urge to visit. I took pictures of the inside last year so check out this post if you’d like to see them. Wall Drugs is basically a circus for consumers, making it all too much fun and easy to spend your hard-earned dollars on a rubber tomahawk. It’s a tourist trap but it’s infinitely amusing. Then I ambled across the street to eat at the Cactus Café. The buffet didn’t blow my mind but for $10.00 I was able to go competitive eater on the place. Once my belly was full and my head was aching from the sugary margarita my server talked me into, I was off to set up camp in Badlands National Park. I had no idea what to expect but I was up for adventure.Badlands National ForestBadlands National ForestBadlands National ForestBadlands National ForestBadlands National ForestBadlands National ForestBadlands National Forest
I decided to stay at Sage Creek, one of the two campgrounds in the Badlands. Sage Creek is a no-reservations, primitive campground with a wealth of covered picnic tables and two pit toilets. The feature I was most interested in is that it’s free to camp here. Aces! After a few death-defying moments on the winding, unpaved roads, I arrived in a valley to find the campground full of people from all over the globe just hanging out. I thought I was in a smaller, more vegetated version of Burning Man. It was glorious. Added to that were the bison just roaming around the tents, all laid back. The thought crossed my mind that one may decide to set up shop on me in the middle of the night but luckily they kept their distance. I set up my tent amongst the 50+ other campers and bison and fell asleep to the unsettling sound of coyotes howling nearby. I find coyote communication to be terrifying. Don’t ask me why, I just do. Despite the coyotes, I had the best nights sleep ever. It was perfect. In the morning, I tore down camp and went for a hike on a nearby footpath. Although it was glorious, I wish I had more time to explore because I only experienced the northern most edge of the Badlands. It would take at least two more days to do this place any justice.

Badlands National Park
This guy has it going on! I want his setup.
Badlands National Forest
The view from my tent.
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There was a bison snoring just a few feet away. Nite nite.
Adventures, Travel

1880 Town, South Dakota

 

On Interstate 90, just a few hours west of the Corn Palace is 1880 Town. It’s basically one of South Dakota’s many over-the-top, crazy, unexpected roadside attractions. I’ve always scoffed at 1880 Town because it seemed like a tourist trap. It boasts a large collection of Dances with Wolves paraphernalia–which I never saw. Costner makes me feel yucky inside. But I was still riding the Corn Palace high so I figured I’d just check it out for once instead of driving by like a poop. Yup, I’m stepping out of my poopy comfort zone. Well, my gamble paid off. I went, I saw, I walked around, I flirted with the help (a rugged fella in cowboy gear) and I fell in love with the place. If you like old buildings, tiny homes, antiques and history then you’re in for a treat! Dances with Wolves memorabilia aside (which was actually impressive, detailed and seemingly historically accurate–although I’m no expert), some of the actual buildings comprising the town were from an old movie set but others were old buildings from around the state that were rescued from destruction. So you can actually tour around an old bank from the 1800’s, for example. The town has a church, a saloon, a doctor’s office, a barber shop, a hotel, a jail, a general store, a homestead, a bank, a tiny home, a blacksmith…pretty much everything and they’re all filled with antiques authentic to that particular structure or time period. All of the buildings are so small and yet they served their purpose well. It’s such a contrast from the build-big mentality we have today. Needless to say, this visit made my tiny house fetish sooooooo much worse. AND I also noticed that I have a thing for old heat stoves. I took a million photos of stoves while I was there. It’s just another weird, newly discovered, little quirk I have.

There’s also a gas station, train car diner, gift shop and museum (with a working player piano–they freak me out a bit) on the premises. Plus a ranch with several Texas longhorns, horses and even a very friendly camel. Yup, I escaped without getting spit on. That’s always a bonus. Admission was $12 but it was well worth it. I even took home some longhorn coat hangers for my future tiny home. I saw a bucket of them in the museum and inquired in the gift shop if I could buy two of them and they let me. They were $2.00 each and now I have antiques from 1880 Town. I cannot suggest this stop enough. I plan to make this a yearly visit.longhorns

 

Adventures, Travel

Myre Big Island State Park, Albert Lea, MN

2014-06-08 14.51.412014-06-08 14.37.38IMG_20140608_0915352014-06-08 14.07.04Two posts in one day!? Wtf?! Yup. Don’t get used to it. After I wrote my first post, I took a hike around Myre Big Island State Park and had the best, most relaxing time. Fantastic wildlife viewing opportunities abound. A racoon hiked along with me, I ran into a mouse, and I accidentally scared off several white pelicans and one magestic heron. From their brochure, I gather that pelicans are an increasingly common treat. They must have finally put this place on their migratory map. It’s funny because me and the pelicans are probably both heading to the same destination. I wish I could hitch a ride on the back of one (ala Neverending Story movie poster). They have a six-foot wingspan, they wouldn’t even feel me. I had such a good time that I pondered staying another night but….Yellowstone calls. I got a huge kick out of their brochure. Since when have turtles been amphibians? Cornell, I want my money back! All this time I’ve been completely misguided. In fact, I feel lied to and betrayed.2014-06-08 15.58.42

I finally made it to South Dakota. This is when the drive becomes extremely amusing: roadside attractions that you didn’t even think possible, kitschy Wall Drug signs mixed with anti-abortion manifestos, extremely windy roads that leave me wanting to poo my pants with every gust, great hard rock radio stations (even heard my hometown hero, Ronnie James Dio), motorcycles up the wazoo… It’s a really interesting state. I’m debating over whether I should hit up the corn palace tomorrow or drive on through to Wall and the Badlands. It probably should be experienced at least once, right?

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Yup, that is a bull’s head by the road. It’s a roadside sculpture park. One of the infinite many in South Dakota.

Right now I’m hunkered down in Mitchell, SD (yup, the home of the world’s first and only corn palace) at a KOA for the night because…well…this old lady is beat. When I checked in, the office was closed but an older gent in a golf card swooped by to save me. Apparently, he owns the place and lives right here with the rest of the campers. I asked him what time I had to leave by and he told me not to worry about it and invited me to stop on in for coffee in the morning. I warned him that I may never leave to which he replied that I could stay until November but then he goes south for the winter. So I’m faced with the dilemma to stay with my new boyfriend in Mitchell or to continue going west. Decisions, decisions.

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Base camp for the night. Clean showers, free wifi…it’s about as close to glamping as I’ve come!

Now its off to enjoy jammies and some tent Netflix (tentflix!).

Odometer: 204609
Miles travelled: 844.4
Gas for today: $28.32
Mitchell KOA campground: $24.27