Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Cody – Gateway to Yellowstone

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Boxed In

After a productive stay in Buffalo, we woke up excited to begin our drive to Cody. Not only were we returning to a place we love, but we were meeting up with our awesome travel buds Bill & Kelly Murray! Even though the trip was under 200 miles, we knew it was going to be a long day. The route to Cody out of Buffalo is U.S. Highway 16, which crosses the Powder River Pass at the south end of the Big Horn Mountains at just under 10,000 ft. To add to the excitement, the weather forecast was calling for snow. Great.

It was a stunning drive and we saw two female moose just hanging out by the side of the road munching away. We came upon them so quickly we didn't have time to get a photo. Still, pretty exciting!

We had no issues with snow or ice and before long we had cleared the pass and eased into Worland. This, we thought, would be a great place for breakfast! We found a little diner just across from a trucking yard. Having found no "Do Not Park' signs, we parked and headed to the restaurant. During our absence a trucker apparently took issue with us taking up a space (of which there were plenty) so he parked at an angle intended to block us in, dropped his trailer and took off.

We were stunned! Toadie was at such an awkward angle that unhooking would be nearly impossible. In front of us there was a pole on the left and that stupid trailer on the right. We studied it for a long time, then Steven said, "We can do this."

I hope that trucker was off in the distance watching with his mouth hanging open, because even though we had a gnat's hair width of wiggle room on each side, while I drove, Steven expertly guided all 54' 4" of our bad selves out of that snare without a scratch! Onward to Cody!

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It looks roomy, but the more we pulled forward, the closer that trailer got!

The Wild West

By wild west, I'm referring to the Walmart on the west side of Cody. Since we had a few boondocking days ahead, it was time to stock up. Oh. My. God. This was the kind of Walmart that is packed with rigs, to the point that even if you get in, you might not get out. It reminded me of the Walmart in Whitehorse in the Yukon. That place got so crazy that just this year they decided to ban RV overnighting all together. It might not be too long before that happens in other popular places, like Cody.

The Dam Campground

We got our provisions and headed further out of town, past the Buffalo Bill Dam to the very end of the reservoir and into the North Fork campground at Buffalo Bill State Park. There are two parts to this state park and we had previously stayed at the North Shore. We were slightly disappointed that we couldn't return there because it was full, but once we laid eyes on our campsite, we fell completely in love. One of these days I'm going to have to look back and count how many campgrounds I have actually designated as a Top Ten, because I'm sure there are more than ten, this one being right at the top!. :)

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The view when we arrived at Buffalo Bill State Park.

We loved it so much, that not long after Bill & Kelly arrived, we had a group meeting and unanimously agreed to scuttle the reservations we had made months ago at a campground near the east entrance of Yellowstone and stay put in the boondocking section of the North Fork. It took us just a few minutes to pack up and changes spots, then we settled in for eight glorious days.

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Our new boondocking spot!

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This beautiful little spot is where we sat around the fire and solved the world’s problems.

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We had music blasting and the wine was a-flowin’. It doesn’t get better than this.

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We visited the nearby dam one day. Bill and Kelly decided to take an Uber to the Visitors Center.

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The Buffalo Bill Dam.

Tour Guides

I think I've mentioned before that I lived in Cody as a child, maybe four or five years old. It may have been a long time ago, but Cody has always been at the top of my family’s list of "Favorite Places We've Lived". Of course, there is so much to see, such history in the area, what's not to love? Steven and I know it well, and since Kelly and Bill had never been to this area of the country, or Yellowstone, we hoped to show them the beautiful sights that keep us coming back time and again.

Although Bill & Kelly are not early risers, we promised them that if they would get out early, the payoff would be worth it. They did, and it was! We saw our first bison as we rounded the corner over Lake Yellowstone. We headed to Old Faithful, where we enjoyed a lovely picnic with wine before the big show. I've seen Old Faithful shoot off probably a couple of dozen times since I was a kid, and this time was the puniest I've ever seen. What's up with that? Still, you can't help but be awed by it.

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A day at Yellowstone is always epic!

We decided that instead of retracing our drive, we would continue on the park loop and go all the way around through Hayden Valley before once again going through the east entrance of the park and back to our campground. It took hours, but it was a lot of fun. Wildlife was kind of scarce, but we finally stopped at the south end of Hayden and watched a herd of bison across the Yellowstone River. Then a couple of huge bulls decided the grass was greener on our side, and they began to swim over. It was all fun and games until everyone realized these guys were fairly swift. Folks cleared out pretty quickly and gave them a wide berth.

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The unique and beautiful colors of Hayden Valley in Yellowstone.

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Just when we thought we hadn’t seen very much wildlife, this herd of bison appeared.

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This guy decided it was better on the our side of the river.

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The evening light was amazing as we drove out of Hayden Valley.

Like Mother, Like Daughter

You know who I think had the best job in the whole world? Charles Kuralt. Remember when he did that series "On The Road" for CBS? I loved that show. Maybe the idea of traveling around in an RV was implanted into my brain all the way back then. He traveled around for a quarter of a century in six different RVs. One of his favorite places was Beartooth Pass, which he deemed to be the most scenic drive in America.I suppose this episode has stayed with me over the years because Beartooth is one of my favorites, too. No matter where we go in this beautiful country of ours, nothing has toppled it off my own Top Ten list.

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We agree with Mr. Kuralt that Beartooth Pass is breathtaking.

When we lived in Cody, my parents would load us into the car and drive up and across the pass. We'd stop at the top and play in the pink snow, the color caused by algae. It was always there, and we always stopped to play. I remember driving Steven and the kids over the pass on a day when the sky will filled with dramatic clouds. Both he and Tara were affected by the nearly 11,000 ft. altitude, so we didn't stay for long, but I pointed out the pink snow!

We have a photo of my Mom taken somewhere on Beartooth. We've always said she looked like she was posing for Life Magazine, with her binoculars pointed in such a way as to take in the vast view below. I was very excited to take Bill & Kelly on this trip, through Red Lodge, over Beartooth and onto Chief Joseph Scenic Highway on the return trip back to Cody. We picked a spectacular day for it and the views were amazing.

While we were at a rest stop near the top of the pass, Kelly and I saw a path that led to an overlook. We figured we might as well go take a look and off we went. Bill and Steven soon joined us. Nearly simultaneously, Steven and I recognized this as the spot where the photo of my Mom was taken. We set about trying to duplicate it, with Bill's binoculars and Steven's sharp eye. We came pretty close! I wish I had her skinny arms. :)

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These two photos are more than half a century apart.

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This is the highest elevation our GPS measured on Bear Tooth Pass!

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We strolled through the mountain town of Red Lodge.

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Lunch on the pass with only the essentials.

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At the summit of Chief Joseph Scenic Highway.

Ride "Em, Cowboy!

Actually, that should read "Cowgirls", because it wasn't Bill and Steven who hoisted themselves up on a real, live bull. It was after Happy Hour that we began our night out at the World Famous Cody Rodeo and therefore had the courage to get on that bull. He was big but the sharp ends of his horns were cut off and with all the heavy-duty fencing, he wasn't going anywhere. Still, we felt very brave.

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That’s a lot of bull!

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Watching the Rodeo.

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Some highlights of the rodeo.

Cody is a western town loaded with cute shops, tons of eateries and all things Buffalo Bill. We visited the amazing Buffalo Bill Cody statue. It sure seemed a lot bigger when I was four years old crawling up there with my Dad.

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More Good Things To Come

We had fabulous weather while we were boondocking at the state park. We enjoyed catching up around the campfire, having happy hours and dinners in our cozy spots at the end of the reservoir. Kelly and I got pedicures and made up some menus. We shopped, we cooked, we yakked, we laughed. We talked about our kids. You just can't beat spending time in beautiful surroundings with people you enjoy. And this was just the beginning. We have a few more weeks together, traveling in our favorite part of the country. Life is really good. 

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Necessary pampering.

Next up: West Yellowstone!

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

A Brand New Chapter

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I don't usually like to go out of order on our blog posts, especially when we've had some really amazing experiences since we last posted that I want to share and document. I promise I will get to all that. But for right now, I am going to jump ahead here into real time, because we have some big news.

Really big news.

I'll save you from a long drawn out narrative, here's the bottom line: We're coming off the road. We're selling Scoopy. We're moving to Europe. We're buying a little new-to-us motorhome. Then we're traveling around. For three years or so.

Big, right? It certainly feels big to us!

How did this come about?

Well, interesting story. Friends and regular readers might remember that we went to Europe for a month in January 2017, mostly to visit Steven's family near Dublin and also to visit London and Paris. It was during this trip that we began to discuss the possibility of returning to Ireland for an extended stay. After more than 30 years away, Steven longs to be closer to his parents, his siblings, his best friend, Kieran. His Irish roots. It's really expensive to visit, even more so for both of us to go. So we started the conversation, what if . . .?

Then, while we were in Paris, literally standing on the top of the Arc de Triomphe at the west end of the Champs-Élysées, we saw a little motorhome making its way around the traffic circle and we pointed, mouths agape, and said, "OMG! Lookie there!"  The rest is history, sort of.

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Somewhere down there on the Champs-Élysées is a motorhome that changed everything!

We returned to the states excited to get going on our new plans. But, in reality, we discovered that the logistics of moving to Europe and buying a motorhome are not easy. It takes a lot of time, research, effort, patience and, let's face it, money. At the time, we were happily traveling on the east coast, enjoying our time visiting a ton of beautiful places and adding new states to our travel map. Before long, research and planning a move to Europe went by the wayside. Then it went by the waaaaaaayside, around the corner and miles into the recesses of our brains.

And then came Wheeling It.

In January 2018, fulltime RVers and popular travel blogger Nina Fussing and her husband Paul, aka Wheeling It, announced they were moving to France. Their plan was to settle there for a few months before purchasing a motorhome and resuming their travels. Once they made the decision, Nina went into overdrive researching their move, and she generously shared that information on her blog. Essentially, she did a lot of the heavy lifting and deep digging, finding answers and solutions. So we thought, well, it would be rude not to put all that information to good use, right? Our move to Europe came off the back burner to the front and center flame. It became all-consuming. 

Where are we now?

Right now we're in Boise, ID. Scoopy is at Cummins getting her final service. We'll travel to Eugene for chassis service and a couple of things that need fixing on the interior. We want Scoopy to be as perfect as possible for the next owners. (So if you happen to know anyone looking for a great rig, let us know!) Following that, we'll make our way to Portland and spend a month there getting Scoopy ready to sell. That's the hard part, because, once again, we will begin paring down our stuff. Other than a couple of boxes we'll ship to the ranch in Texas, everything we own will have to fit in our teeny little Toadie Hopper!

We have reservations at Lake Pleasant RV Park in Bothell, just north of Seattle, starting in mid-November. We plan to spend about five weeks there, including Thanksgiving and Christmas with our kids. By December 27, we hope Scoopy is sold, because that's our departure date from Lake Pleasant. It's gonna be a dance, for sure, finding a buyer who will let us continue living in her until then. But if we don't, or we need to move out early, we have plans B, C and possibly D, if needed.

After the holidays we'll make our way to the ranch in Toadie.

Europe preparations and destinations

We already have our passports and our International Driving Permits but we don't yet have an arrival destination, because we have our eye on a motorhome in the UK. If that one doesn't work out, we have a Plan B (of course) which would likely put us in France. There are lots of things still up in the air and frankly they might still be up there the day we leave. Why not live on the edge, right? It's all part of the adventure.

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These bad boys will allow us to drive anything from 2 to 18 wheels just about anywhere in the world!

Regardless of how all that works out, in early April, we will travel to St. Jean Pied du Port at the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains in France to finalize preparations for our hike on the Camino de Santiago. Depending on the weather, around April 15 or so we will begin the 500 plus-mile pilgrimage that will take us across northern Spain and into the month of June. Then finally, we'll head to Ireland.

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It will have been a long journey home but we'll finally be there. And at least for a little while, we'll stop and catch our breath before we start planning our next destinations. Morocco? Greece? Turkey? Norway? Yes, please!

NEXT UP: Back to our regularly scheduled travel program!

Sunday, September 30, 2018

The Lucky Few

Linda and I have been traveling for more than four years as I write. In many ways, it feels like a lifetime. I can barely remember what it was like to live in a house and go to a regular job every day. If and when the day comes where we will have to give it all up, it'll probably be one of the most difficult transitions I'll ever make.

I've had some amazing opportunities to photograph this beautiful country since we began our great adventure. I never lose sight of how lucky I am to be able to immerse myself in nature, free from the stresses of an ordinary life. Before I became a photographer, I was a cinematographer, working with my partner Glenn to produce documentaries, music videos and short films. I have recently returned to shooting video and wanted to create something meaningful, something that would highlight this amazing life. The resulting film called "An Uncluttered World" has resonated with many people, most notably fulltimers and some even featured it on their own blogs.

In the film, I refer to the lucky few and I think all of us who are living on the road fit that description. I hope you enjoy it, click below to watch.

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Friday, September 21, 2018

Making a Beeline Out West

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Remember a couple of posts ago when I said we would do Wisconsin justice after our visit to Chicago?

Yeah. Scratch that.

We left Chicago and headed north toward Milwaukee. Our dear friend Jo Wishnie has sent us a ton of great suggestions of places to visit, and we really had every intention of stopping there. First, though, we stopped at Cummins to spend an overnight and get an oil change for Scoopy. We were in and out by 9:30 the next morning, so we rolled into Milwaukee and right out the other side and drove straight on to Sheboygan.

There were three things plotting against a stay in Milwaukee. First, the smoke from western fires were reaching the Great Lakes and it was hard to tell the sky from the water, it was that hazy. Second, the state fair had just finished up and they had not yet opened the campground to the general public, so really, not a lot of affordable places to stay. And third, after a non-stop week in Chicago, we were exhausted.

The Bold Look of Kohler

We settled into the Sheboygan Elks Lodge with only two things on our agenda over the next three days other than relaxing. First, we wanted to find a fishmonger and get more whitefish, and two, I wanted to go visit the Kohler factories and Design Center.

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The entrance to all things Kohler in Sheboygan.

Truthfully, Kohler was the main reason we were even in Sheboygan. I am a big fan. When we built our house in 2003, we had several bathrooms to kit out. I spent a lot of time searching for just the right fixtures and I loved Kohler products the very best of all. We ended up on a three-hour tour of the factories, which was great. Unfortunately there were no photos were allowed. The best part, though, was the Design Center. I love me some fixtures!

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The master bathroom of our lake house brimming with Kohler fixtures.

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Kohler was the first to come out with colors! That square tub? We had that one in our master.

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Steven made a new friend but she wasn’t very chatty.

Having moseyed about at a leisurely pace (for us) on Highway 2 and around Lake Michigan, we were now on a mission to go west and get to Cody, WY. When I am in "lemming" mode (go until we reach our destination or fall off a cliff, whichever comes first) it is difficult for me to slow down and stay in the moment. But I knew Steven would appreciate a slower pace and perhaps a photo op or two, so I researched Roadside America along I-90 and planned our stops accordingly. This was right up his alley, the weirder, the creepier, the better.

We are (in) Sparta!

No, not the ancient Greek city in the Peloponnese, rather, the Walmart parking lot in Sparta, Wisconsin. Here we experienced the second worst storm we'd seen on the road, the first being in North Dakota. But fortunately we awoke to blue skies, which meant Steven could venture out to visit F.A.S.T. - the Fiberglass Statue Mold Yard. This is essentially a “graveyard” of used molds for fiberglass statues and falls firmly into the category of curiosity of the creepy kind. I know, exciting, right? The information available warns of wasps and sharp edges, so I declined to accompany him, although I admit Bob's Big Boy was tempting. He loved it, though, so that's all that matters.

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Our camping spot at Walmart in Sparta.

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The mold yard in Sparta. It was kinda like walking through a cemetery.

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This display of Gibson guitars was pretty cool.

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The mold for Bob’s Big Boy!

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There was definitely a high creep factor at the F.A.S.T. mold yard…right up Steven’s alley!

In The Valley of the Jolly (Ho! Ho! Ho!) Green Giant

Who doesn't remember the Jolly Green Giant and Sprout? We found them in Blue Earth, MN, our next stop. Blue Earth is one of the few small towns we've seen in our travels that is flourishing. At least, it appears that way. We saw no business for sale on Main street, none closed and boarded up. Folks were out and about shopping, visiting, eating in the restaurants. I guess it's good to be a company town, and even though Green Giant has changed hands several times, its identity remains squarely in Blue Earth. Having Winnebago Industries close by doesn't hurt either.

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The Jolly Green Giant looking pretty epic just after sunrise.

We stayed three nights at the county fairgrounds at the edge of town, $20 for full hook ups. You can't beat that! And as luck would have it, the fairgrounds is where the 60' tall Jolly Green Giant resides. Although he is made of fiberglass and hails from Sparta, it was a competitor who created him, not F.A.S.T.  Apparently gigantic fiberglass things are big in Sparta, no pun intended. Throughout Blue Earth, there were also "painted Sprouts" on display. You remember Sprout, right? The Jolly Green Giant's little sidekick? There were some pretty cute ones around town and we enjoyed searching them out. Our time in the Valley of the Jolly Green Giant was very relaxing, a good mix of rest, chores and exploring.

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The Jolly Green Giant and Blue Earth Locker where we stocked up on some yummy sausages.

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Sprouts popped up all over town. It was fun finding them all.

So Corny

We left Blue Earth and made our way to Mitchell, SD, Home of the Corn Palace. This was a return trip for us and we stayed at the same place - Camp Cabela's. Last time we stayed here we made our very first visit ever to the Cabela's store, and we remember being so overwhelmed by the merchandise (so much camo!) and vast selections, we didn't stay for long. This time we were like old hands, making our way from one familiar area to another. I guess if you take advantage of their generous parking policies, you're bound to buy something eventually. Steven got a couple of shirts but I think we're still ahead in the camping cost category.

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Cabela’s always has awesome displays!

We stayed just one night in Mitchell. Try as we might to summon the interest to visit the Corn Palace, we just couldn’t. So once again, we drove by it and then left town without visiting.  We did, however, enjoy some freaking awesome Mexican food, which I had been avoiding after a not-so-pleasant experience in Duluth.

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We only managed a drive-by shooting of the Corn Palace.

Gleaming Dignity

Two years ago at this same time of year we were making our way from Cody to Campbellsville, KY for our first stint at Amazon. We drove by a stunning, gleaming statue, and I hollered, "what was that???" but didn't stop to see it. We were kind of caught off-guard, so we just kept going. We weren't going to make the same mistake this time. Her name is Dignity and she's a 50-foot high stainless steel sculpture of an Indigenous woman in Plains-style dress holding a billowing, blue star quilt. She was created by the South Dakota artist laureate Dale Lamphere and sits on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River near Chamberlain, South Dakota. When we saw her during our drive-by, she had just been installed and, wow, what an grand impression she made!

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Dignity is a truly magnificent sculpture.

On a sunny day, Dignity gleams, but she's still beautiful no matter the weather. We are so glad we made this stop a priority. The bluff where she sits is actually at a rest stop on I-90, and there is a visitors center there as well. Do not miss this stop if you pass by!

Rapid Elks

There is one other thing we passed by that piqued Steven's interest as we traveled along I-90. 1880 Town, a western-themed tourist site that boasts movie sets from "Dances with Wolves". We saw it in 2016, too, and as per usual, we just rolled on by. This time was no different, as we continued to the Elks Lodge in Rapid City. This is a very popular lodge and they only have ten sites. Getting in means arriving early so there would be no stopping at the 1880 Town. We got the second to the last site available and the last one was nearly unusable. Yet, we sat and watched a 40 ft. motorhome back right in and set up. I like to think I'm pretty good at getting into tight places with Scoopy, but that guy had some skills!

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For lunch on the way to Rapid City, we had some corn by a cornfield.

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Our spot at the Rapid City Elks Lodge.

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Out of nowhere came a brief hail storm while we were in Rapid City. Thankfully, there was no damage.

I took the opportunity to get a cut and color and I have to say that, since I've been on the road, I've had my best cuts in Duluth and Rapid City. Crazy, huh? You just never know, although I will say the one thing both these shops had in common is that they are Aveda stylists. It's tempting to say "you get what you pay for", but my third best cut was at a Supercuts in Tucson. It's a crapshoot, really.

Even though it required backtracking 110 miles, Steven got up early one morning and made the trip to 1880 Town. It is a touristy place, to be sure, but for him, it presented the opportunity to photograph a series rather than a single subject. He explains it here.

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Scenes from around 1880 Town.

That's WY

Our final stop before Cody was Deer Park Campground in Buffalo, WY. I wish I had something exciting to write about, but our stay in Buffalo was filled with chores. Sometimes that's kind of relaxing, in that it's a productive stay, but not the kind of place where we're running around seeing things. That can be exhausting. We knew we'd be boondocking once we got to Cody, so we needed to get completely caught up on laundry and cleaning. We literally left the campground once and that was to eat breakfast at a little café downtown.

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Our campsite at Deer Park Campground. Very relaxing!

So that's it! Our trip west from Chicago was 1,200 miles over 15 days. To me, that's a pretty good mosey.  Steven got to photograph some stuff and we didn't fall off a cliff!

Up Next:  Cody!