Although my expectations were set pretty low, for some reason I was expecting a ton of oil fields, we really loved Western North Dakota. Lots of farms with rocky outcroppings spread throughout and when we hit the Teddy Roosevelt National Park are we were both in awe. I didn’t even know it existed and was so sorry we had to pass through quickly but that is a place we definitely want to go back to. After driving through some more farmland we finally hit Belfield, ND which is known as the gateway to the west. The view went from farmland to ranches and the change in terrain was noticeable. Many years ago Lee used to drive a truck cross-country for a production company he worked for and he always came home from those trips raving about the views and now for the first time I was seeing what he had been talking about. I looked over to tell him and I saw a tear rolling down his cheek. (A bug flew in my eye. Shut up. – Lee) He was obviously visibly moved and I said , “Honey we made it. ” His quiet reply was “It only took 15 years.” That took me a minute to process. I was thinking it took us 9 months to get here, but for Lee the wait was 15 years. The moment was significant. The West is the place Lee has always wanted to be and I was so happy for him that we finally had made it. It was a great moment.
Lee intentionally scheduled a long drive day, so we would have more time with his family on Friday, but with my new work setup in the truck it wasn’t an issue for me. Also, my cell coverage was excellent. I have to say as much as I have heard that Verizon is the way to go for FTers, my AT&T has been really good. Thus far we have actually been in two spots where our Verizon friends had no cell coverage and ours worked. That being said, Lee and I are concerned about what happens when we get out west though and had talked about numerous options including a Verizon plan and a “pay as you go” phone. Right now the thing that makes the most sense financially is all AT&T., but things may come to a head soon. For right now, I was on a conference call while going through Bozeman Pass and heard everything just fine. I was absolutely amazed by that, plus the conference call was a lot more pleasant with the amazing views.
Finally, after driving for several hours we stopped for the night in Columbus, Montana. Our hometown is Columbus, Ohio so we got a kick out of being in Montana and staying in a town with the same name. Columbus, Montana is one of the really small towns out West with a struggling Main Street. It’s hanging on but you can tell it’s not a prosperous town. We stayed in a free city park, Itch-Kep-Pe , for the night and it was nice but definitely could use some TLC. The spots were good, it was near a river, and the people were really friendly, but it was all vaguely unkempt and overgrown. That being said, we were happy to stay there for the night for free and would even recommend it for a little longer stay, but it would be great if they hired a camp host to come clean it up. It could be amazing. A nice bonus was the local farmer’s market was on Thursday night. I love a farmer’s market, and this one, for such a small town, had a nice varied selection. Lee bought some hot, seasoned nuts and I got about $10 worth of fresh locally grown vegetables, plus we put back a little in the local economy which we always like to do.
The next day was a shorter travel day and we were planning on a stop in Helena, Montana. Lee’s mom’s oldest sister, Mildred, stayed in this area of the country when some of the kids lived out east and Lee has a cousin Kim, he has only met once and another cousin Gerry he has never met. His cousins have owned this really trendy shoe and clothing stop called Sole Sisters on the main street of Helena for over 20 years. Before meeting everyone though we needed to find our campground and finish out the work day. The campground, Riverside at Canyon Ferry, was a bit hard to find. Lee intentionally picked one outside of town, because the campgrounds in town had pretty poor reviews, and were full anyway. It didn’t look like much from the google earth pictures but again, only one nigh,t so not a big deal. Wow, were we pleasantly surprised. This was one of the nicest campgrounds we have ever stayed at. It was immaculately clean, on the water, and there is a hug dam within sight. There is water throughout the campground , stone picnic tables and really nice fire rings all for $15 a night. Crazy!! We loved it and would highly recommend it to anyone passing through the area, but I will warn you the drive to get to it is a little steep and curvy. So worth it though.
Unfortunately we were also really starting to see smoke in the area so the views weren’t as dramatic as they could have been. August in Montana means smoke from fires. I talked to a person who has lived there a while and he said it’s normally about 20 days a summer of smoke and the worst is usually in August. This year by all accounts was really bad though, and they have even brought in fire fighters from Australia to help combat the flames. We weren’t near any fires, but the smoke does travel and the day we were in Helena is was “foggy” like conditions. When we got to Mildred’s house she was very concerned about the fact we were heading into the fire area and worked with Lee to look at road closures and alternative routes. She really wanted us to stay longer and we talked about it, but Glacier is a RV bucket list item of mine and we were planning on meeting our friends Ellen, Mario, Deb, and Steve. I loved Helena and definitely want to go back when we have more time. Plus, Lee’s Aunt Mildred will be very disappointed in us if we don’t go back and she is not the kind of person you want disappointed in you!! She had made plans for the evening so we drove down to Sole Sisters and checked out the shop. It was really great, with quality merchandise. This is not a place to find a bargain, but definitely worth a stop to check out what they have. Plus, ask for Kim or Gerry, and say you heard about them from Lee and I…that will be fun since they were so fascinated by the blog and the lifestyle.
After checking out the shop, where Mildred still works sometimes but only when she feels like it, we went down the street to Bert and Ernie’s. It doesn’t look like much from the outside but inside is really great and has a separate wine bar and wine area. I really liked it and the pizza was good. We didn’t even have to pay because Mildred very slyly picked up our check. Seriously, I am usually pretty good at spotting that but didn’t even see it happen. Gotta love a free dinner!! We said our goodbyes and I gave Kim my card so she could read the blog. She and her husband Devon were very interested in the lifestyle, and we absolutely promised we would come back when we had more time.
On our drive back to the campground we saw some deer down on the sand by the lake. Lee pulled into a side street to see if we could get down there and there was a deer with fledgling horns right in the neighborhood. Neither one of us have ever seen a deer with any kind of horns so it was pretty cool. We stayed and watched it for a while as it calmly ate the persons bushes. It was a great day seeing people and a great campground but can’t wait to get to our friends and Glacier!!
Itch-Kep-Pe City Park Columbus, MT 3 out of 5 pinecones
Totally free and along a river. The people were nice and sites were very large and well spaced. There is water, but no dump and the bathrooms are very basic but it is definitely priced right. The campground was a bit overgrown and definitely needed some TLC, but the price was great and certainly good for a short stay. My AT&T cell coverage was very good. No wi-fi and there is a train track behind the campground and the occasional train did go by.
Riverside at Canyon Ferry Canyon Ferry Lake, MT 4 out of 5 pinecones
This is the nicest campground with no services we have ever stayed at. It was immaculately clean, on the water, and there is a hug dam within sight. There is water throughout the campground , stone picnic tables and really nice fire rings all for $15 a night. Crazy!! We loved it and would highly recommend it to anyone passing through the area, but I will warn you the drive to get to it is a little steep and curvy. There is water in the campground in a few places, and the only major drawback is no dump. They really should put one in. I don’t know what the noise is like when the dam is running, but since I like waterfall noise I think that would have been a plus for me.
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