The Saaris’ (Sorta) Safe Sojourn – PART 1

OK, you can stop holding your collective breath now. On October 11, 2020, nearly two years after we departed on our first extended camping journey (Pat and Dave’s Excellent Adventure), I drove the RV away from its parking spot alongside the cabin in Grand Marais, MN, for another 6-month tour. Pat had left a few days earlier with the car, to collect trip stuff from the condo and get it ready for winter. Brian is once again staying at the cabin all winter, this time with his new dog, Pippin.

As some may remember, I documented the last winter trip in some detail through a series of twelve blog posts, each covering roughly a two-week period. That was great fun for me and even served a useful purpose by providing a record of the trip for posterity. Surprisingly, several readers told me they actually enjoyed the blog posts. Therefore, I’ll be doing the same thing again this time around: posting a series of articles with brief thumbnail sketches of where we’ve been and perhaps a few pithy observations about the joys and pitfalls of this nomadic existence, including the challenges presented by Covid-19. Here goes my first effort for 2020-21.

Oct 11-12 (Sunday, Monday): I took off at about 8:30 AM and drove to the Baker Park Reserve in Maple Plain, a suburb west of Minneapolis. After fighting the wind all the way, I settled into a nice campsite beneath a colorful maple tree for a two-night stay. I was gratified to find the campground only about 25% occupied, making it very easy to socially distance when not holed up in the RV. On Monday, I took the RV to the local Mercedes Sprinter dealer for 20,000-mile maintenance service ahead of the trip, to make sure the van was shipshape and ready to go. That evening, I decided for some reason to visit the web site of the Pine Lake State Park in Eldora, IA, where we had stayed both on the way south and when returning north during our Excellent Adventure. We had planned to go there again, in no small part due to the nice golf course next to the park. We hadn’t made a reservation and didn’t expect it to be busy, but I just thought I should check the status. Good thing I did, because the park is CLOSED for maintenance, so our trip almost got off to a not-so-great start. After a consultation by phone with Pat at the condo, I reserved a site at the Blue Mounds State Park in Luverne, MN, instead. We didn’t really want to go to Covid-challenged Iowa, anyway, nice golf course or not.

Baker Park Campsite

Oct 13-14 (Tuesday, Wednesday): I met Pat at her brother’s house in Minnetonka, MN at 10 AM, where we left the car in care of the in-laws for the duration of the trip. By the time we had loaded up all the stuff Pat brought along, I though the RV might burst at the seams. Somehow, we seem to have about twice as much as we did the last time, but we just piled all the excess on the bed and took off, vowing to reorganize once we got to the first campground. Again, I felt as though I was battling a ferocious wind all the way and felt exhausted when we arrived. Our campsite was very nice, located only a short walk from the very clean restroom and shower facilities. There were very few other campers at the park, bolstering our feeling of safety from the virus. On Wednesday, we took a hike to go visit the resident bison herd. Since they were hunkered down at the most remote spot possible, it ended up being a seven-mile trek (3.5 miles each way). Pat ended up with a blister from her new hiking boots, and my feet felt absolutely awful, but it was well worth it.

Our site
“North Mound Springs”
Bison Grazing (I counted more than fifty total in the herd)

Oct 15-16 (Thursday, Friday): We motored off at about 10 AM and drove to the Platte River State Park near Louisville, NE. The drive was taxing, as the wind was again quite robust. We had tried to reserve a site on Wednesday, but were unable to do so because online reservations can only be made two or more days in advance. The Nebraska parks website indicated that walk-up sites might be available, so, feeling adventurous, we decided to give it a shot anyway. Along the way, we stopped at a HyVee near Omaha for groceries and were very pleased to find all of the patrons wearing masks and making an effort to distance in the store. But when we got to the Park, there were no sites available. Luckily, we did find a spot at the nearby Louisville State Recreation Area (one of only two sites available). Happy to have found a spot, we settled in to the better of the sites, though I was a bit disconcerted by the large number of campers in residence. However, we were able to avoid close contact with anyone else and enjoyed a pleasant walk along the nearby Platte River on Friday afternoon. I even met a friend in the woods along the way.

Platte River at Louisville State Recreation Area
Trees are our friends!!!

Oct 17-18 (Saturday, Sunday): We hit the road around 10 AM Saturday, this time having an easier drive without much wind as we made our way to the Webster State Park near Stockton, KS. Shortly before arrival at the Park, we stopped for fuel at Mac’s Kwik Stop in Phillipsburg, KS. After filling the RV, I went into the store to pay, wearing my mask, and had to wait while a maskless customer chatted with the masked cashier. The customer felt a need to ask why the cashier was wearing a mask, and my Spidey sense told me to stay far, far away until he left the store, already feeling a bit jittery about traveling through Trump territory. But, when we got to the Park, I was quite relieved to find that the site we had reserved was totally isolated from other human beings. Anxieties thus suitably calmed, this Finnish introvert was able to relax before our next foray onto the highways. On Sunday, we took a nice, 4-mile hike on a trail that wound along the reservoir adjacent to the Park and through the undulating terrain, featuring prairie grasses, small shrubs and trees, and multiple limestone (I think) bluffs and outcroppings.

Social distancing at Webster State Park
View from hiking trail at Webster State Park

Oct 19-21 (Monday-Wednesday): As we were leaving Wednesday morning, I decided to stop at a bait and tackle store within the park to ask if they could fill the RV propane tank. I went inside (wearing my mask, of course) where the maskless proprietress told me they only carried small propane tanks. I hightailed it back to the camper. As we drove along a series of generally straight and narrow roads through the flat prairie lands toward Colorado, I couldn’t help but reflect on the fact that 67% of the people I had close encounters with in Kansas weren’t wearing masks, seemingly validating the stereotype about red state residents. When we eventually crossed the state line, we were greeted by a large sign stating that masks are required in all public places in Colorado, which again bolstered my confidence in the safety of our sojourn. We stopped in the town of Lamar, CO, for the propane fill we couldn’t get earlier, plus diesel fuel, groceries, and some comfort beverages made from grapes and barley. Of the roughly one hundred people we encountered there, 98% were wearing masks, significantly better than in Kansas. But I also realized that we had travelled through the entire state of Kansas, including two nights’ lodging, and only had close encounters with three people! Once again in a good state of mind about what we are doing, we motored off to the John Martin Reservoir State Park.

The John Martin Reservoir was created by damming up the Arkansas River back in the late 1930s and early 1940s. The park was very nice, and our site was at least a sand wedge shot away from any other campers. We spent three relaxing days there, walking along a trail around the small lake (Lake Hasty) downstream of the huge dam, observing wildlife (a flock of turkeys roaming the park, some killdeer along the shore, a host of ducklike birds swimming in the lake, and several flocks of sandhill cranes flying south), listening to the sweet serenade of coyotes or wolves at night, and even doing laundry in the nice park facilities. And we did all of this without coming within 50 yards of another human being, except for the masked park ranger when we checked in on Wednesday.

Our well-isolated campsite at John Martin Reservoir State Park
Lake Hasty in the afternoon

Oct 22-25 (Thursday-Saturday): At 10 AM Thursday, we headed off toward New Mexico. For the first part of the trip, the drive was easy and wind-free as we drove through the high plains along very straight roads. We did encounter some wind as our route wound along a pass through the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, reaching an elevation close to 9,000 ft, but the scenery was beautiful and there were very few white-knuckle moments. Our destination, the Questa Lodge and RV Park, proved to be a very pleasant, six-acre property with 40 RV sites (as well as several cabins), nestled at 7461 ft. elevation among the surrounding hills and mountains. The campground was only about half full, so we again had plenty of separation from the other campers, virtually all of whom kept to themselves at their own sites. We spent some time walking around, enjoying the small river and duck pond, and even broke out our bikes for the first time to ride to a nearby convenience store for supplies. The campground also had very good Wi-Fi service, affording an opportunity to make this inaugural post as well as to watch some TV with our streaming service.

Our lovely site at the Questa Lodge and RV Campsite
The duck pond
The river

All in all, we’re off to a good start, my only regret being no opportunity for golf so far (but I’m sure I’ll remedy that before too long). Stay tuned as the adventure continues …

Here’s a map of our progress so far:

2 thoughts on “The Saaris’ (Sorta) Safe Sojourn – PART 1

  1. Enjoying your blog. Seems like pretty smooth sailing (oops, driving) so far and good separation from other travelers/campers. Have my maps out and am checking out your campsite locations. Hope the weather stays good as you travel further into New Mexico. I think a golf course could lurking down the road. Safe travels. Gordon & Michele

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  2. You are so right. I was indeed waiting with baited breath for tales of your second adventure. Thank you. I’ll enjoy the vicarious living.

    Happy travels, lots more tales.

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