Day 5 – Thursday, July 2, 2020
Duluth, MN to Dickinson, ND
We are so sorry that this such a boring trip blog. We can’t do anything – except watch the news and watch the COVID cases tick up. That being said, we are trying to spend some family time together and go to the last place in the US we think people would want to go: Teddy Roosevelt National Park. Hell, every year we take a photo, use the bathroom, and drive away from there as fast as possible. Not this year: it’s our destination. Wow. End times.
This morning we awakened and in a flurry of packing, we were out the door by 8:45. The entire goal was to get to Fargo by 1:30 so we could get donuts. All locations of Sandy’s Donuts close at 1:30. You have never seen such committed travelers, as we haven’t had donuts in months at this point.
We drove across northern MN on highway 200 and 2. We have never driven this stretch before, and it was really painful. As bad as South Dakota? It’s a coin toss. Tons of little towns that had nothing in them. Beautiful lakes. We were thrilled to get to Park Rapids, as they had actual restaurants. HOWEVER, we had only 5 minutes to stop in order to make it to Fargo and donuts on time. So we had to get McDonald’s. Sarah took one for the team and okayed it, as it meant getting donuts. We sped along the roads, passing as many slow passive aggressive MN drivers as we could. We made it with 10 minutes to spare!
We then found a rest stop as Zoe had had to go pee for at least 2 hours.
Off we continued for another 4 hours. We drove through Bismarck and had to hit up our favorite, Salem Sue. We posed for a pic, trying out the selfie stick. No one looked good. On we drove, and into the rain and lightning we went. That being said, it is gorgeous in North Dakota. The rolling hills, small buttes, fields of green, the Missouri River — it is an amazingly beautiful place (to some of us).
We hit up Dickinson (and mountain time zone!) around 6:30. We are staying at the Holiday Inn in town. We have stayed in some interesting accommodations in this town in the past, ranging from terrifying to nice. This is in the middle, maybe closer to the terrifying. We will see.
We got what was advertised as a “two bedroom suite” but is really a handicapped accessible room alone in a wing of meeting rooms, amidst broken down luggage carts and air conditioning units. Sarah saw the shady locals across the street eyeballing our vehicle and setting off fireworks. Great. Matt wiped down everything in the room with disinfecting wipes and we inspected everything. No one in ND wears masks. It’s scary here.
We got take out Japanese bento boxes from the Japanese steakhouse across the parking lot. You may remember us doing that a couple years ago – that place is fantastic! #1 place in Dickinson. THEY wore masks! We enjoyed our teriyaki shrimp and scallops and the hoards of food they give you, while the children danced around and demanded to use the pool (god no).
Now we are faced with a dilemma. We are pretty creeped out here. We are relying on food service workers to be clean and take precautions, but do not trust a single soul except the folks at the Japanese restaurant. But back in Duluth, Canal Park employees are starting to test positive. Is anywhere safe? Or do we have to eat Japanese food for 3 days?!? And really, how much is there to do here in ND? We will see….
Beers drank: North Dakota Garden State IPA and Fargo Brewing Company Stone’s Throw
Day 6 – Friday, July 3, 2020
Dickinson, ND (sigh)
Well, here we are, the final destination (kind of) of our pandemic trip. The only way this would be sadder is if our final destination was Billings, MT (**shivers**). We all slept deeply, despite the paper thin walls in our creepy secluded room.
We awoke to exciting and delicious meal of Kix cereal in cups with milk, and off we went! We hit up City Brew for some giant coffees, got some gas, and we hit I-94 west to go to Teddy Roosevelt National Park. Now, you say, but you have been there before. Well, technically yes. But the park is divided into two units – North and South. Usually we graze the South Unit in our hurry to get to Montana, but this year, we took a hard right off the highway to head an hour north to the North Unit! As far as we could tell, basically everything but the park was going to be closed. We had gotten the children prepared to pee on the side of the road (“what’s new” they said) and we had printed off our own trail brochures ahead of time.
You can imagine our surprise when after an hour of driving past nothing (with the exception of a single non-dilapidated building, St. Demetrius Ukrainian Catholic Church (which led to way too much googling as to how that is a thing here in the middle of nowhere)), we turned into the park and found: 3 other cars (with equally confused and surprised people in them); actual trailer with flush restrooms and running water; and two park rangers ready with stampers in hand (you don’t think we forgot those National Park Passports, did you?). It was such a pleasant surprise!
We had crossed the Little Missouri River, and our plans were to do the 15 mile scenic drive and maybe a trail. Sarah had her heart set on the Capstone Coulee Trail, which had good internet reviews and was 4.1 miles long, which seemed doable for kids and weather. It had rained overnight and the ranger told us it was probably pretty muddy given how much clay they have. “Nonsense!” said Sarah.
We cruised along the scenic drive and happily pulled up at our trailhead. The first 0.8 miles was a nature trail with signs and a booklet – it was actually quite informative. It was designed so that you could turn around and walk back to the trailhead/parking lot, or continue on to do the full loop. We happily took off with loads of water and snacks (note: temp was 91) and enjoyed the nature trail. We encountered some muddy spots in the areas with tree cover, but most of the trail was dried out. It was nice to read about the various plants and rock formations (rivlets, slumps, coulees, etc) in the area.
We ran into a friendly lady whose sandals were caked with mud, and she said she was an experienced hiker but it was too muddy ahead. Sarah: “nonsense!”. Well, yeah, turns out she was right. As the nature trail got to #14 in the interpretive guide, it became a mud bath (as opposed to a bloodbath). No one fell, exactly, but all of our shoes had 1-2 inches of mud on the bottom. At one point, we all had vegetation attached to the mud on the shoes. Noah was particularly annoyed, despite Sarah insisting we could let it dry and clean it off.
We stopped for snacks and water a couple of times, and the kids did great hiking. Zoe only rode a little bit (a lot bit, toward the end) on Matt’s shoulders. The only other guy we saw on the trail was along a ridgeline, taking photos. As we passed, Matt noticed he had on a UWSP hat – turns out he just graduated from there and will be starting his job with the South Unit at Teddy next week. Man, us Wisconinites like to go places.
We enjoyed the breeze and wind on the ridgeline, and made our way down close to the Scenic Drive, and crossed the road. Then the trail became even more picturesque (read: scary). We were basically walking along the edge of the Badlands type formations, somewhat near the Little Missouri River – crumbling rocks, little crevices, etc. The kids were like mountain goats, hopping happily. At one point, Sarah didn’t have her footing and had to sit down and have Matt help her across some kind of hole in the rock. Overall, an A plus kind of hike!
We eventually found our way back to the car (only a couple wrong turns). Noah was so excited to get there that he started to run, and he planted his foot ankle deep into some mud just off the trail. He lifted his foot up and his shoe remained in the ground. He did not think it was as funny as we all did. He had to hop across the road back to our car, and we retrieved his shoe. It is drying right now. We hope.
We all feasted on PBJs and apples and water and finished the scenic drive, and then used the (flush!!) bathroom trailer one more time, and then started back on the journey back to Dickinson. We figured after the very moderately strenuous hike that we all deserved some ice cream, so we hit up DQ for cones and mini blizzards on the way home. We pulled into the hotel, covered in mud and exhausted.
We all showered up and kids had hot dogs – Matt and Sarah ordered out from the Brickhouse Grille (#3 restaurant in Dickinson) and enjoyed a sandwich and burger from there. Two thumbs up! Then we sat down and forced the kids to play some games as a family. We learned a few things:
The kids version of Cards Against Humanity, called Kids Against Maturity, went over GREAT with B. Half of the cards are inside jokes for adults, and the other half involve pee and poop and farting. Noah appeared mildly annoyed the entire time. B was laughing so hard he was crying. He ended up winning.
Pictionary was next. B eagerly sided with Sarah, after the previous Pictionary game when Sarah and Noah demolished B and Matt. Bad news. Team B/Sarah lost by a narrow margin to Matt/Noah. B spent the rest of the night sulking. He is not a good loser.
That hiking exhausts the kids, after they all basically couldn’t stay awake any longer after game night. Definitely a winner in our books.
Beer drank (after kids collapsed): Going to the Sun IPA. (Sarah is bitter as that company’s red is no longer available as the brewery closed).
Day 7 – Happy Fourth of July!
Dickinson, ND (yes, we are STILL here)
So yesterday we visited the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and today we are going to visit the South Unit. We thought we had been there already as we had been to the Painted Canyon Visitor Center (aka, the nicest rest stop ever), and oh boy were we wrong.
We all ate Kix out of cups and granola bars and set off for our usual two stops before hitting the highway – the gas station (which has a sad bank of abandoned appearing Tesla chargers next to it – come on, know your audience) and City Brew, where they don’t question our order of two very large black coffees each day. Also, they wear masks.
We set off for Teddy R today. We did stop at the usual visitor center, which was packed. There were a couple of people besides us with masks but overall it was way busier than we thought it would be and most people were not masked. Sarah’s mask sadly broke while we were there, a poignant commentary on the ongoing pandemic, Fourth of July and being in a national park. OR it was made with ribbon because elastic supplies had run out, and it finally snapped because ribbon was not made to be strength bearing on a daily basis. Oh well.
We took our usual photo but with a selfie stick because we didn’t trust any of the dirty people at the visitor center to touch our phone. Also, we got the order we always stand in wrong, but we will pretend we did it purposely if asked. We then all ran back to the car as fast as we could.
Next stop – our only hike for the day. We drove past the park and turned off onto a bunch of Forest Service roads (interesting name, given the lack of trees for miles) and followed them through ranchland to the start of the hike to the Petrified Forest, just inside the Park boundary. We figured not many people would be there. Well, say that to the group of 12 people gearing up to carry their many babies in the parking lot. All the women had on long skirts and they appeared to be a religious sect. Great, we super love following slow hikers, especially groups of them.
We got sunscreened up and loaded up our water bottles and off we went. We signed the trail log behind the group of 12 (sigh) and then hiked 0.5 miles to where the trail splits into two, the north and south loops. The idea is that both directions, after a mile or so, lead to different sections of the forest. You can do an ~10 mile loop, or just hike out a mile, then turn around for a 3 mile round trip. Unfortunately, the kids would have revolted if we would have suggested anything more than 3 miles. So when we got to the split in the trail, we looked and figured that the trail was wider heading north, so we would go south, to try and avoid the big hiking party. Spoiler: we were successful!
We scrambled up over some steep rocky hillsides and walked through the National Grasslands area (so pretty), through a small treeline, and down into the Petrified Forest. It was pretty cool to see large petrified tree trunks, and what appears to be bits of opal and other rocks that the trees had turned into. We flipped around and hiked back, passing a couple of pairs of other hikers on the way back. It was a nice trail, and much easier than yesterday’s. Sometimes on the rockier areas it wasn’t always obvious where the trail was and you had to rely on the trail marker in the distance to guess the way to get there.
Then off to the Medora Entrance Station – Visitor Center! Medora was pretty busy and appeared to be like a tiny version of the towns that you see surrounding and Yellowstone/Glacier/other National Parks. We drove on in and hit the scenic road.
Part of the scenic road had been washed out and destroyed (eh, it happens) and thus we would do a loop around the entire thing, and then backtrack. There were a fair amount of people out; we were surprised. Not surprised to see a lot more people in the more readily accessible South Unit compared to North. We drove through and admired the prairie dog towns (every kid loves those) and saw bison and wild horses.
We did a small hike on Boicourt Overlook (the end of the trail was nothing short of terrifying looking (Matt: “stunning!”) and Sarah and the kids huddled with the car keys on the trail while Matt happily strode out there to take photos). A highlight was finding one of the few bathroom facilities on the drive – it doesn’t seem like we should mention it, but it was the best sight all day.
We backtracked and drove out of the park, and then through the town of Medora to get on the freeway. We drove through at 2:45, and suspect their Fourth of July parade was slated for 3:00 pm based on the hoards of completely unmasked people sitting on curbs, and the fire trucks and cowboys on horses, etc. May god save us all.
We cruised back into Dickinson and hit up the DQ for some ice cream, then collapsed in the hotel. Every day when we come back, the kids say “Can we go in the pool, dad? Can we go in the pool, mom?” as we listened to the shouts (and probably coughing) in the pool area. So we just let them play on iPads all night because we felt bad – we sure as hell were not going in that pool area.
Matt and Sarah were hungry and kind of disturbed by dining options and lack of masking, etc. So we caved and got the Japanese food again. Man, Sakura is GREAT! Matt ordered a Dickinson Roll and Sarah got a dinner bento box again. Kids enjoyed hot dogs. We are all relaxing and psyched to get on the road back to Grandma again tomorrow! All a bit more haggard, and all more tan (especially Matt, wow).
Beers drank: who knows. For the record, we are editing this in November, so this is all just a foggy memory.
Day 8 – Sunday, July 5, 2020
Dickinson, ND to Duluth, MN
Yeah, the world’s most boring road trip. We are going back to a previous destination. Eh, what can you do. We always have fun in Duluth, and honestly, most tourists and locals in the area we are staying in are amazing about social distancing and masking.
We packed up in Dickinson in a hurry, Sarah shuddering the entire time. To be clear, we had a difficult time sorting out what exactly it was about the Holiday Inn in Dickinson that gave us the creeps. It could have been any number of things. For posterity’s sake, Sarah will post what she would write for a TripAdvisor review here, and then Matt (who is in charge of our account) can do whatever he wants with it (trash it, and write something vague that won’t get us banned from the Holiday Inn chain in the future):
“From the locals playing with fireworks near the parking lot, to the unmasked front desk clerk, we never felt that safety of any kind was paramount at this Holiday Inn. We appreciated the hoards of people running around without masks on and the breakfast buffet that was open and lively (if you wanted to catch the virus, we appreciated the effort this hotel went to). Note: please do not get room 104. It might seem amazing to be the only room down a hallway, but it is not. There was a handicapped doorbell to our room, yet nothing was handicapped accessible. We suspect this room could be used to hold someone who is handicapped hostage. The barren main room with no art on the walls, leading to a bathroom that had a drain in the center of the floor for unclear reasons and a light switch behind the door, would be perfect for surprising someone and dismembering a corpse. Also, not enough towels.”
For unclear reasons, Matt will never post what Sarah writes (even if he agrees with it). After leaving all our trash from 3 days there (you didn’t think we would let housekeeping in, did you?!?), we bustled into our car amidst the leftover gunpowder in the parking lot. We hit up our usual gas station and City Brew before leaving town. The kids got monkey muffins and we got scones (were actually good) and lots of coffee.
It was a beautiful drive through North Dakota. We saw Salem Sue go whizzing by (bye cow!), and made our way to the Culver’s in Fargo. We zoomed over the border into Minnesota, saying goodbye to any public restrooms. You can drive all the way from Moorhead, MN on the border to Duluth, MN and never see a rest stop. That is FOUR HOURS. Central to northern MN starts very prettily near ND and the lakes are enormous and gorgeous (Leech Lake, Height of the Land Lake, etc). Then it gets so so boring. All the towns have nothing except a gas station, a Lutheran church, and a liquor store. We had to stop at the grossest port potty ever near a boat landing. Even Zoe was so horrified she made Sarah come in with her (every person, including Zoe, who walked in, noted the high liquid level in the porto potty and the purple tampon applicator floating in it – “What is that purple thing, mommy?”). A testament to exactly how badly we all had to go that we used it.
We arrived in Duluth around 6:30 pm and we are staying for a few nights at the Inn on Lake Superior. It was so much cheaper than all the other hotels in Duluth for no apparent reasons, despite being on the Lakefront AND having two pools, one of which is on the roof! There was something about them giving deals and hosting people who are COVID-19 responders, perhaps infected people, we don’t know. But we don’t care. We got a sweet suite overlooking the lake with a balcony. There’s no housekeeping due to the virus and no breakfast buffet – they are taking it seriously. We are pleased.
We watched a few boats come in, got ourselves some take out from the Canal Park Brewery (fish tacos and a reuben) and some delicious beer, and called it a night!
Beer drank: something from the brewery… ???
Day 9 – Monday, July 6, 2020
Woke up to a beautiful Duluth Day! Wow, it’s hot and humid here. We immediately cruised up to the hotel roof pool at 8 am on the dot, when it opened, so we could be the only people up there. We were for about an hour, which was great. They have signs about social distancing, limiting time in pool if others are waiting, only 10 people in the pool at a time – we feel well taken care of. The pool is heated and you have a view of the Lift Bridge, which was perfect. When the next group arrived, we went back down to get showered up. Matt picked up 5 bagged breakfasts from the lobby, which each had an orange, oatmeal bar, blueberry muffin, and water in them. We enjoyed those with coffee on the balcony and planned out our day.
We got geared up in hiking stuff and set out to try one of the urban trails in Duluth. This city is amazing with the amount of neighborhoods and trails, and the North Country and Superior Hiking Trails run right through the city. We decided to try part of the Superior Hiking Trail from Twin Ponds near Enger to 10th Avenue West – as an out and back trail it turned out to be about 4 miles. It was definitely a scramble with some boulders and varying trail surfaces, and a beautiful trail. There was a gorgeous waterfall near the end. We had ~700 feet of elevation gain which is pretty good for a trail in the midwest hidden in the middle of the city.
We snacked on some car snacks (read: chip bags, fruit and granola bars) and headed over to Brighton Beach to throw some rocks in the water. WOW was it busy. We managed to snag a spot and get far enough away from other people to feel safe. The water was like glass and the kids played on the rocks, then in the water (in their clothes, sigh) and everyone had a great time.
We headed over to Love Creamery for some amazing ice cream in homemade waffle cones (this place may be annoyingly trendy but dang their ice cream is good!) – Sarah had dark chocolate, Zoe and B had mint chip, Noah had salted caramel, and Matt had goat cheese with lemon and blueberry (yeah, trendy). We headed back to the hotel and changed out of our sweaty and lake water soaked clothes, and Grandma headed over!
We went for a nice long walk on the pier/canal, where it really is possible to socially distance. The hotel had warned us about the construction between the hotel and the lake – they are building a significant breakwater and fixing the destroyed Lakewalk (the waves from November storms have been destroying it on an annual basis). The hotel seemed to think this was a negative thing, but we love watching the trucks move giant rocks and other tourists were watching too, some with drinks in hand (lol). Then the weather got ominous and we all split – Grandma Barb ran to her car and we ran inside. No rain, but instead a beautiful rainbow (well, over the construction site). We ate some Grandma’s take out and enjoyed some beer. Another great day!
Beer drank: something….
Day 10 – Tuesday, July 7, 2020
[Late entry]. [How late, you ask? Try September 8. Oh how the world has changed since our trip. So this is a guesstimate. In fact, we aren’t totally positive in anything we write from this point on]. Last day of the trip! We think? We will recap as best we can. Definitely got up, enjoyed some pretty views and then the plan was to meet up at Wisconsin Point with Grandma. We did that, and although it has been two months (dear god it feels like longer than that), we had an amazing time. Growing up, the temperature rarely cracked the 80s in the summer, and it was in the 80s this day. Beautiful breeze, hanging out at the best beach ever. Was there clearly a rip tide? Well, yes. It IS Lake Superior. Was the water 33 degrees? Of course. But it was beautiful – Grandma Barb and her albino skin soaked up an hour of sun and she went home, exhausted by us and the sun. The rest of us marveled at how perfect this beach day was. Lots of rock picking and a few agates and because the beach is incredibly long (2.75 miles long) and undeveloped, despite having more people than Sarah has ever seen here (literally two DOZEN), the social distancing was perfect. In fact, Sarah and her mother snarked on how people were a little close for comfort (1/4 mile or more away).
We popped by Culvers for custard on the way back to Grandma’s, then hung out and played bean bag toss for an hour outside with Grandma and Forrest. It was just perfect!
We then headed back to the hotel to pack up. We THINK we got Fitger’s for take out? Maybe? Maybe Sarah got a Wild Rice burger? It is incredibly unclear. there might have been a rainbow? Wait, that was the previous day. Maybe we went on a walk?
Day 11 – Wednesday, July 8, 2020
Duluth, MN to Waupaca, WI
We think the kids and Matt may have swam today in the rooftop pool quickly in the morning? (Yes, they did until there was thunder…) It did rain and pour, so maybe not. We checked out and hit up Einstein’s bagels/Caribou Coffee (nom nom) on way out of town. Drive home was pretty uneventful aside from stopping at the only rest stop on the way home (shout out to Barron, WI). We were trying to figure out what to pick up for lunch, and an image /action by another rest stop user is now burned in Sarah’s head (ask her if you want to know) that should never take place even in a non-pandemic year, and we quickly decided to forego any fast food and made the quickest sandwiches from a cooler you have ever seen, and motored out back onto the highway as quickly as possible.
And there you have it! We returned home, where cases were climbing. As we write this, Waupaca County is #1 for cases/100k people in WI in the last 7 days. Hoot, hoot. Great job, unmasked individuals. Also – as we write this, North Dakota, particularly Dickinson, have skyrocketing cases and deaths. NY Times says they are a hot spot. You know what? NOT shocked at all based on the behavior we saw there. We love that state, but yikes.
Any plans for next year? How about a “second tier trip”? Hit up all the places we usually drive by when we are trying to get somewhere else. I hear the Corn Palace and Missile Monument and the Bighorn Mountains calling our names!
And lastly, we will dedicate this last post to Forrest Fenn. He passed away yesterday at the age of 90, with his treasure having coincidentally been found this year (announced on Sarah’s birthday, it has been a rough year) . His hunt gave Sarah many nights of entertainment (puzzling through maps and making friends with other searchers in online forums), and someday we hope to visit the site the treasure was at, if it is ever revealed. Someday.